Expression of the circadian clock gene BMAL1 positively correlates with antitumor immunity and patient survival in metastatic melanoma

Leonardo Vinícius Monteiro de Assis*, Gabriela Sarti Kinker, Maria Nathália Moraes, Regina P. Markus, Pedro Augusto Fernandes, Ana Maria de Lauro Castrucci

*Corresponding author for this work
35 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Melanoma is the most lethal type of skin cancer, with increasing incidence and mortality rates worldwide. Multiple studies have demonstrated a link between cancer development/progression and circadian disruption; however, the complex role of tumor-autonomous molecular clocks remains poorly understood. With that in mind, we investigated the pathophysiological relevance of clock genes expression in metastatic melanoma. Methods: We analyzed gene expression, somatic mutation, and clinical data from 340 metastatic melanomas from The Cancer Genome Atlas, as well as gene expression data from 234 normal skin samples from genotype-tissue expression. Findings were confirmed in independent datasets. Results: In melanomas, the expression of most clock genes was remarkably reduced and displayed a disrupted pattern of co-expression compared to the normal skins, indicating a dysfunctional circadian clock. Importantly, we demonstrate that the expression of the clock gene aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator-like protein 1 (BMAL1) positively correlates with patient overall survival and with the expression of T-cell activity and exhaustion markers in the tumor bulk. Accordingly, high BMAL1 expression in pretreatment samples was significantly associated with clinical benefit from immune checkpoint inhibitors. The robust intratumoral T-cell infiltration/activation observed in patients with high BMAL1 expression was associated with a decreased expression of key DNA-repair enzymes, and with an increased mutational/neoantigen load. Conclusion: Overall, our data corroborate previous reports regarding the impact of BMAL1 expression on the cellular DNA-repair capacity and indicate that alterations in the tumor-autonomous molecular clock could influence the cellular composition of the surrounding microenvironment. Moreover, we revealed the potential of BMAL1 as a clinically relevant prognostic factor and biomarker for T-cell-based immunotherapies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number185
JournalFrontiers in Oncology
Issue numberJUN
Publication statusPublished - 12.06.2018


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