An integrated multi-omics approach to identify regulatory mechanisms in cancer metastatic processes

Saba Ghaffari, Casey Hanson, Remington E. Schmidt, Kelly J. Bouchonville, Steven M. Offer, Saurabh Sinha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Metastatic progress is the primary cause of death in most cancers, yet the regulatory dynamics driving the cellular changes necessary for metastasis remain poorly understood. Multi-omics approaches hold great promise for addressing this challenge; however, current analysis tools have limited capabilities to systematically integrate transcriptomic, epigenomic, and cistromic information to accurately define the regulatory networks critical for metastasis. Results: To address this limitation, we use a purposefully generated cellular model of colon cancer invasiveness to generate multi-omics data, including expression, accessibility, and selected histone modification profiles, for increasing levels of invasiveness. We then adopt a rigorous probabilistic framework for joint inference from the resulting heterogeneous data, along with transcription factor binding profiles. Our approach uses probabilistic graphical models to leverage the functional information provided by specific epigenomic changes, models the influence of multiple transcription factors simultaneously, and automatically learns the activating or repressive roles of cis-regulatory events. Global analysis of these relationships reveals key transcription factors driving invasiveness, as well as their likely target genes. Disrupting the expression of one of the highly ranked transcription factors JunD, an AP-1 complex protein, confirms functional relevance to colon cancer cell migration and invasion. Transcriptomic profiling confirms key regulatory targets of JunD, and a gene signature derived from the model demonstrates strong prognostic potential in TCGA colorectal cancer data. Conclusions: Our work sheds new light into the complex molecular processes driving colon cancer metastasis and presents a statistically sound integrative approach to analyze multi-omics profiles of a dynamic biological process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number19
JournalGenome biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Colon cancer
  • Metastasis
  • Multi-omics
  • Probabilistic model
  • Transcriptional regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology


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