Anthracyclines induce cardiotoxicity through a shared gene expression response signature

E. Renee Matthews, Omar D. Johnson, Kandace J. Horn, José A. Gutiérrez, Simon R. Powell, Michelle C. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


TOP2 inhibitors (TOP2i) are effective drugs for breast cancer treatment. However, they can cause cardiotoxicity in some women. The most widely used TOP2i include anthracyclines (AC) Doxorubicin (DOX), Daunorubicin (DNR), Epirubicin (EPI), and the anthraquinone Mitoxantrone (MTX). It is unclear whether women would experience the same adverse effects from all drugs in this class, or if specific drugs would be preferable for certain individuals based on their cardiotoxicity risk profile. To investigate this, we studied the effects of treatment of DOX, DNR, EPI, MTX, and an unrelated monoclonal antibody Trastuzumab (TRZ) on iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes (iPSC-CMs) from six healthy females. All TOP2i induce cell death at concentrations observed in cancer patient serum, while TRZ does not. A sub-lethal dose of all TOP2i induces limited cellular stress but affects calcium handling, a function critical for cardiomyocyte contraction. TOP2i induce thousands of gene expression changes over time, giving rise to four distinct gene expression response signatures, denoted as TOP2i early-acute, early-sustained, and late response genes, and non-response genes. There is no drug- or AC-specific signature. TOP2i early response genes are enriched in chromatin regulators, which mediate AC sensitivity across breast cancer patients. However, there is increased transcriptional variability between individuals following AC treatments. To investigate potential genetic effects on response variability, we first identified a reported set of expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) uncovered following DOX treatment in iPSC-CMs. Indeed, DOX response eQTLs are enriched in genes that respond to all TOP2i. Next, we identified 38 genes in loci associated with AC toxicity by GWAS or TWAS. Two thirds of the genes that respond to at least one TOP2i, respond to all ACs with the same direction of effect. Our data demonstrate that TOP2i induce thousands of shared gene expression changes in cardiomyocytes, including genes near SNPs associated with inter-individual variation in response to DOX treatment and AC-induced cardiotoxicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1011164
JournalPLoS genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 28 2024
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Cancer Research


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