Each pregnancy linearly changes immune gene expression in the blood of healthy women compared with breast cancer patients
AuthorLund, Eiliv; Nakamura, Aurelie; Snapkov, Igor; Thalabard, Jean-Christophe; Olsen, Karina Standahl; Holden, Lars; Holden, Marit
Background: There is a large body of evidence demonstrating long-lasting protective effect of each full-term pregnancy (FTP) on the development of breast cancer (BC) later in life, a phenomenon that could be related to both hormonal and immunological changes during pregnancies. In this work, we studied the pregnancy-associated differences in peripheral blood gene expression profiles between healthy women and women diagnosed with BC in a prospective design.
Methods: Using an integrated system epidemiology approach, we modeled BC incidence as a function of parity in the Norwegian Women and Cancer (NOWAC) cohort (165,000 women) and then tested the resulting mathematical model using gene expression profiles in blood in a nested case–control study (460 invasive case–control pairs) of women from the NOWAC postgenome cohort. Lastly, we undertook a gene set enrichment analysis for immunological gene sets.
Results: A linear trend fitted the dataset precisely showing an 8% decrease in risk of BC for each FTP, independent of stratification on other risk factors and lasting for decades after a woman’s last FTP. Women with six children demonstrated 48% reduction in the incidence of BC compared to nulliparous. When we looked at gene expression, we found that 756 genes showed linear trends in cancer-free controls (false discovery rate [FDR] 5%), but this was not the case for any of the genes in BC cases. Gene set enrichment analysis of immunologic gene sets (C7 collection in Molecular Signatures Database) revealed 215 significantly enriched human gene sets (FDR 5%).
Conclusion: We found marked differences in gene expression and enrichment profiles of immunologic gene sets between BC cases and healthy controls, suggesting an important protective effect of the immune system on BC risk.