The expression signature of cancer-associated KRAB-ZNF factors identified in TCGA pan-cancer transcriptomic data

Marta Machnik, Rafał Cylwa, Kornel Kiełczewski, Przemysław Biecek, Triantafillos Liloglou, Andrzej Mackiewicz, Urszula Oleksiewicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


The KRAB-ZNF (Krüppel-associated box domain zinc finger) gene family is composed of a large number of highly homologous genes, gene isoforms, and pseudogenes. The proteins encoded by these genes, whose expression is often tissue-specific, act as epigenetic suppressors contributing to the addition of repressive chromatin marks and DNA methylation. Due to its high complexity, the KRAB-ZNF family has not been studied in sufficient detail, and the involvement of its members in carcinogenesis remains mostly unexplored. In this study, we aimed to provide a comprehensive description of cancer-associated KRAB-ZNFs using publicly available The Cancer Genome Atlas pan-cancer datasets. We analyzed 6727 tumor and normal tissue samples from 16 cancer types. Here, we showed that a small but distinctive cluster of 16 KRAB-ZNFs is commonly upregulated across multiple cancer cohorts in comparison to normal samples. We confirmed these observations in the independent panels of lung and breast cancer cell lines and tissues. This upregulation was also observed for most of the KRAB-ZNF splicing variants, whose expression is simultaneously upregulated in tumors compared to normal tissues. Finally, by analyzing the clinicopathological data for breast and lung cancers, we demonstrated that the expression of cancer-associated KRAB-ZNFs correlates with patient survival, tumor histology, and molecular subtyping. Altogether, our study allowed the identification and characterization of KRAB-ZNF factors that may have an essential function in cancer biology and thus potential to become novel oncologic biomarkers and treatment targets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)701-724
Number of pages24
JournalMolecular Oncology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • Breast Neoplasms/genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • DNA Methylation/genetics
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors/metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms/genetics
  • Male
  • Neoplasms/genetics
  • Protein Isoforms/genetics
  • Survival Analysis
  • Transcriptome/genetics
  • Zinc Fingers

Research Institutes

  • Health Research Institute

Research Centres

  • Cardio-Respiratory Research Centre


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