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The University of Hong Kong Gastric Cancer Organoids RHO Signaling Study

Objective: Cell-cell (CC) and cell-matrix (CM) adhesions are essential for epithelial cell survival, yet dissociation-induced apoptosis is frequently circumvented in malignant cells. Design: We explored CC and CM dependence in 58 gastric cancer (GC) organoids by withdrawing either ROCK inhibitor, matrix, or both, to evaluate their tumorigenic potential in terms of apoptosis resistance, correlation with oncogenic driver mutations and clinical behaviour. We performed mechanistic studies to determine the role of diffuse-type GC drivers: ARHGAP fusions, RHOA, and CDH1, in modulating CC (CCi) or CM (CMi) adhesion independence. Results: 97% of the tumour organoids were CMi, 66% were CCi and 52% were resistant to double withdrawal (CCi/CMi), while normal organoids were neither CMi nor CCi. Clinically, the CCi/CMi phenotype was associated with an infiltrative tumour edge and advanced tumour stage. Moreover, the CCi/CMi transcriptome signature was associated with poor patient survival when applied to 3 public GC datasets. CCi/CMi and CCi phenotypes were enriched in diffuse-type GC organoids, especially in those with oncogenic driver perturbation of RHO signalling via RHOA mutation or ARHGAP fusions. Inducible knockout of ARHGAP fusions in CCi/CMi tumour organoids led to re-sensitization to CC/CM dissociation-induced apoptosis, upregulation of focal adhesion and tight junction genes, partial reversion to a more normal cystic phenotype, and inhibited xenograft formation. Normal gastric organoids engineered with CDH1 or RHOA mutations became CMi or CCi, respectively. Conclusions: The CCi/CMi phenotype has a critical role in malignant transformation and tumour progression, offering new mechanistic information on RHO-ROCK pathway inhibition that contributes to GC pathogenicity.

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Dataset ID Description Technology Samples
EGAD00001008830 Illumina HiSeq 1500 52