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Wu, Zhengquan; Lei, Ke; Li, Huaizhi; He, Jiali; Shi, Enxian (2022): Transcriptome-based network analysis related to M2-like tumor-associated macrophage infiltration identified VARS1 as a potential target for improving melanoma immunotherapy efficacy. Journal of Translational Medicine, 20 (1). ISSN 1479-5876

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The M2-like tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) are independent prognostic factors in melanoma.

We performed weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) to identify the module most correlated with M2-like TAMs. The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) patients were classified into two clusters that differed based on prognosis and biological function, with consensus clustering. A prognostic model was established based on the differentially expressed genes (DEGs) of the two clusters. We investigated the difference in immune cell infiltration and immune response-related gene expression between the high and low risk score groups.

The risk score was defined as an independent prognostic value in melanoma. VARS1 was a hub gene in the M2-like macrophage-associated WGCNA module that the DepMap portal demonstrated was necessary for melanoma growth. Overexpressing VARS1 in vitro increased melanoma cell migration and invasion, while downregulating VARS1 had the opposite result. VARS1 overexpression promoted M2 macrophage polarization and increased TGF-β1 concentrations in tumor cell supernatant in vitro. VARS1 expression was inversely correlated with immune-related signaling pathways and the expression of several immune checkpoint genes. In addition, the VARS1 expression level helped predict the response to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy. Pan-cancer analysis demonstrated that VARS1 expression negatively correlated with CD8 T cell infiltration and the immune response-related pathways in most cancers.

We established an M2-like TAM-related prognostic model for melanoma and explored the role of VARS1 in melanoma progression, M2 macrophage polarization, and the development of immunotherapy resistance.

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