Large-scale pan-cancer analysis reveals broad prognostic association between TGF-β ligands, not Hedgehog, and GLI1/2 expression in tumors
AbstractGLI1 expression is broadly accepted as a marker of Hedgehog pathway activation in tumors. Efficacy of Hedgehog inhibitors is essentially limited to tumors bearing activating mutations of the pathway. GLI2, a critical Hedgehog effector, is necessary for GLI1 expression and is a direct transcriptional target of TGF-β/SMAD signaling. We examined the expression correlations of GLI1/2 with TGFB and HH genes in 152 distinct transcriptome datasets totaling over 23,500 patients and representing 37 types of neoplasms. Their prognostic value was measured in over 15,000 clinically annotated tumor samples from 26 tumor types. In most tumor types, GLI1 and GLI2 follow a similar pattern of expression and are equally correlated with HH and TGFB genes. However, GLI1/2 broadly share prognostic value with TGFB genes and a mesenchymal/EMT signature, not with HH genes. Our results provide a likely explanation for the frequent failure of anti-Hedgehog therapies in tumors, as they suggest a key role for TGF-β, not Hedgehog, ligands, in tumors with elevated GLI1/2-expression.