H Dvinge, A Git, S Gräf, M Salmon-Divon, C Curtis, A Sottoriva, Y Zhao, M Hirst, J Armisen, EA Miska, S-F Chin, E Provenzano, G Turashvili, A Green, I Ellis, S Aparicio, C Caldas
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) show differential expression across breast cancer subtypes, and have both oncogenic and tumour-suppressive roles. Here we report the miRNA expression profiles of 1,302 breast tumours with matching detailed clinical annotation, long-term follow-up and genomic and messenger RNA expression data. This provides a comprehensive overview of the quantity, distribution and variation of the miRNA population and provides information on the extent to which genomic, transcriptional and post-transcriptional events contribute to miRNA expression architecture, suggesting an important role for post-transcriptional regulation. The key clinical parameters and cellular pathways related to the miRNA landscape are characterized, revealing context-dependent interactions, for example with regards to cell adhesion and Wnt signalling. Notably, only prognostic miRNA signatures derived from breast tumours devoid of somatic copy-number aberrations (CNA-devoid) are consistently prognostic across several other subtypes and can be validated in external cohorts. We then use a data-driven approach to seek the effects of miRNAs associated with differential co-expression of mRNAs, and find that miRNAs act as modulators of mRNA-mRNA interactions rather than as on-off molecular switches. We demonstrate such an important modulatory role for miRNAs in the biology of CNA-devoid breast cancers, a common subtype in which the immune response is prominent. These findings represent a new framework for studying the biology of miRNAs in human breast cancer.