The relapse rate in early stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) after surgical resection is high. Prognostic biomarkers may help identify patients who may benefit from additional therapy. The Helicase-like Transcription Factor (HLTF) is a tumor suppressor, altered in cancer either by gene hypermethylation or mRNA alternative splicing. This study assessed the expression and the clinical relevance of wild-type (WT) and variant forms of HLTF RNAs in NSCLC.
We analyzed online databases (TCGA, COSMIC) for HLTF alterations in NSCLC and assessed WT and spliced HLTF mRNAs expression by RT-ddPCR in 39 lung cancer cell lines and 171 patients with resected stage I-II NSCLC.
In silico analyses identified HLTF gene alterations more frequently in lung squamous cell carcinoma than in adenocarcinoma. In cell lines and in patients, WT and I21R HLTF mRNAs were detected, but the latter at lower level. The subgroup of 25 patients presenting a combined low WT HLTF expression and a high I21R HLTF expression had a significantly worse disease-free survival than the other 146 patients in univariate (HR 1.96, CI 1.17–3.30; p = 0.011) and multivariate analyses (HR 1.98, CI 1.15–3.40; p = 0.014).
A low WT HLTF expression with a high I21R HLTF expression is associated with a poor DFS.