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Sci Rep. 2019 Dec 3;9(1):18257. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-54791-x.

Computational STAT3 activity inference reveals its roles in the pancreatic tumor microenvironment.

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Department of Molecular and Systems Biology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Hanover, NH, 03755, USA.
Department of Biomedical Data Science, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Lebanon, NH, 03756, USA.
Department of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, 77030, USA.
The Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, 77030, USA.


Transcription factor (TF) STAT3 contributes to pancreatic cancer progression through its regulatory roles in both tumor cells and the tumor microenvironment (TME). In this study, we performed a systematic analysis of all TFs in patient-derived gene expression datasets and confirmed STAT3 as a critical regulator in the pancreatic TME. Importantly, we developed a novel framework that is based on TF target gene expression to distinguish between environmental- and tumor-specific STAT3 activities in gene expression studies. Using this framework, our results novelly showed that compartment-specific STAT3 activities, but not STAT3 mRNA, have prognostications towards clinical values within pancreatic cancer datasets. In addition, high TME-derived STAT3 activity correlates with an immunosuppressive TME in pancreatic cancer, characterized by CD4 T cell and monocyte infiltration and high copy number variation burden. Where environmental-STAT3 seemed to play a dominant role at primary pancreatic sites, tumor-specific STAT3 seemed dominant at metastatic sites where its high activity persisted. In conclusion, by combining compartment-specific inference with other tumor characteristics, including copy number variation and immune-related gene expression, we demonstrate our method's utility as a tool to generate novel hypotheses about TFs in tumor biology.

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