Systematic analysis of the transcriptional landscape of melanoma reveals drug-target expression plasticity

Brad Balderson, Mitchell Fane, Tracey J Harvey, Michael Piper, Aaron Smith, Mikael Bodén

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Metastatic melanoma originates from melanocytes of the skin. Melanoma metastasis results in poor treatment prognosis for patients and is associated with epigenetic and transcriptional changes that reflect the developmental program of melanocyte differentiation from neural crest stem cells. Several studies have explored melanoma transcriptional heterogeneity using microarray, bulk and single-cell RNA-sequencing technologies to derive data-driven models of the transcriptional-state change which occurs during melanoma progression. No study has systematically examined how different models of melanoma progression derived from different data types, technologies and biological conditions compare. Here, we perform a cross-sectional study to identify averaging effects of bulk-based studies that mask and distort apparent melanoma transcriptional heterogeneity; we describe new transcriptionally distinct melanoma cell states, identify differential co-expression of genes between studies and examine the effects of predicted drug susceptibilities of different cell states between studies. Importantly, we observe considerable variability in drug-target gene expression between studies, indicating potential transcriptional plasticity of melanoma to down-regulate these drug targets and thereby circumvent treatment. Overall, observed differences in gene co-expression and predicted drug susceptibility between studies suggest bulk-based transcriptional measurements do not reliably gauge heterogeneity and that melanoma transcriptional plasticity is greater than described when studies are considered in isolation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBriefings in Functional Genomics
StateE-pub ahead of print - Dec 5 2024


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