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J Pathol. 2013 Oct;231(2):158-67. doi: 10.1002/path.4240.

Identification of a recurrent transforming UBR5-ZNF423 fusion gene in EBV-associated nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Anatomical and Cellular Pathology, State Key Laboratory in Oncology in South China, Prince of Wales Hospital, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, SAR; Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, SAR.


Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a distinct type of head and neck cancer which is prevalent in southern China, south-east Asia and northern Africa. The development and stepwise progression of NPC involves accumulation of multiple gross genetic changes during the clonal expansion of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-infected nasopharyngeal epithelial cell population. Here, using paired-end whole-transcriptome sequencing, we discovered a number of chimeric fusion transcripts in a panel of EBV-positive tumour lines. Among these transcripts, a novel fusion of ubiquitin protein ligase E3 component n-recognin 5 (UBR5) on 8q22.3 and zinc finger protein 423 (ZNF423) on 16q12.1, identified from the NPC cell line C666-1, was recurrently detected in 12/144 (8.3%) of primary tumours. The fusion gene contains exon 1 of UBR5 and exons 7-9 of ZNF423 and produces a 94 amino acid chimeric protein including the original C-terminal EBF binding domain (ZF29-30) of ZNF423. Notably, the growth of NPC cells with UBR5-ZNF423 rearrangement is dependent on expression of this fusion protein. Knock-down of UBR5-ZNF423 by fusion-specific siRNA significantly inhibited the cell proliferation and colony-forming ability of C666-1 cells. The transforming ability of UBR5-ZNF423 fusion was also confirmed in NIH3T3 fibroblasts. Constitutive expression of UBR5-ZNF423 in NIH3T3 fibroblasts significantly enhanced its anchorage-independent growth in soft agar and induced tumour formation in a nude mouse model. These findings suggest that expression of UBR5-ZNF423 protein might contribute to the transformation of a subset of NPCs, possibly by altering the activity of EBFs (early B cell factors). Identification of the oncogenic UBR5-ZNF423 provides new potential opportunities for therapeutic intervention in NPC.

© 2013 The Authors. Journal of Pathology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.


Epstein-Barr virus; UBR5-ZNF423 fusion; gene rearrangement; nasopharyngeal carcinoma; oncogene; transcriptome sequencing

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