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Date of this Version



Wang and Simon BMC Medical Genomics 2013, 6:30


Copyright 2013 Wang and Simon; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Background: Identification of genes that are synthetic lethal to p53 is an important strategy for anticancer therapy as p53 mutations have been reported to occur in more than half of all human cancer cases. Although genomewide RNAi screening is an effective approach to finding synthetic lethal genes, it is costly and labor-intensive.

Methods: To illustrate this approach, we identified potentially druggable genes synthetically lethal for p53 using three microarray datasets for gene expression profiles of the NCI-60 cancer cell lines, one next-generation sequencing (RNA-Seq) dataset from the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project, and one gene expression data from the Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia (CCLE) project. We selected the genes which encoded kinases and had significantly higher expression in the tumors with functional p53 mutations (somatic mutations) than in the tumors without functional p53 mutations as the candidates of druggable synthetic lethal genes for p53. We identified important regulatory networks and functional categories pertinent to these genes, and performed an extensive survey of literature to find experimental evidence that support the synthetic lethality relationships between the genes identified and p53. We also examined the drug sensitivity difference between NCI-60 cell lines with functional p53 mutations and NCI-60 cell lines without functional p53 mutations for the compounds that target the kinases encoded by the genes identified.

Results: Our results indicated that some of the candidate genes we identified had been experimentally verified to be synthetic lethal for p53 and promising targets for anticancer therapy while some other genes were putative targets for development of cancer therapeutic agents.

Conclusions: Our study indicated that pre-screening of potential synthetic lethal genes using gene expression profiles is a promising approach for improving the efficiency of synthetic lethal RNAi screening.