Background: Social isolation has shown robust associations with clinical outcomes in the general population and in patients with cancer. In patients with ovarian cancer, social isolation has been found to be related to decreased survival and multiple biomarkers supporting tumor progression. However, to the authors' knowledge, little is known regarding the relationship between social isolation and the molecular characteristics of ovarian tumors. Herein, the authors have used genome-wide transcriptional profiling to quantify associations between social isolation and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) polarization in ovarian tumors and transcriptome-driven, promoter-based bioinformatics analyses to identify gene regulatory pathways that may potentially underlie these changes. Methods: Tumor was sampled during primary surgical resection and immediately frozen in liquid nitrogen. After RNA extraction, microarray analysis of the transcriptome was performed and samples were analyzed to assess associations between EMT-related gene transcripts and social isolation (as indicated by a Social Provisions Scale Attachment subscale score <15). Convergent validation was provided by a promoter-based bioinformatic analysis of transcription factor activity. Results: Primary analyses of 99 women demonstrated a lower average expression of gene transcripts previously associated with epithelial differentiation in women with high social isolation (−0.143 ± 0.048 log2 mRNA abundance; P =.004), but no difference in mesenchymal differentiation as a function of social isolation (+0.007 ± 0.0064 log2 mRNA abundance; P =.900). Upregulated activity was shown for 3 of the 4 targeted EMT-related transcription factors, including GATA4 (P =.014); SMAD2, SMAD3, and/or SMAD4 (P <.001); and TWIST1 (P <.001). Analyses of SNAIL2/SLUG activity indicated a directional trend toward increased activity that did not reach statistical significance (P =.123). Conclusions: The findings of the current study demonstrated differential EMT polarization and EMT-related transcription factor activity according to social isolation, a known socioenvironmental risk factor. Lay Summary: Social isolation has shown robust associations with clinical outcomes in the general population and in patients with cancer. Herein, the authors examined the relationship between social isolation and the molecular characteristics of ovarian tumors. The authors investigated the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process whereby tumor cells lose epithelial characteristics and become more embryonic (mesenchymal), thereby enhancing invasiveness. Primary analyses demonstrated lower expression of genes previously associated with epithelial differentiation and increased activity of specific EMT-related transcription factors in individuals with high social isolation, indicating increased EMT polarization in these patients. These findings extend the understanding of how socioenvironmental factors may modulate tumor growth.
- epithelial-mesenchymal transition
- ovarian cancer
- social isolation
- treatment resistance