Purpose: Much of the heredity of melanoma remains unexplained. We sought predisposing germline copy-number variants using a rare disease approach.
Methods: Whole-genome copy-number findings in patients with melanoma predisposition syndrome congenital melanocytic nevus were extrapolated to a sporadic melanoma cohort. Functional effects of duplications in PPP2R3B were investigated using immunohistochemistry, transcriptomics, and stable inducible cellular models, themselves characterized using RNAseq, quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR), reverse phase protein arrays, immunoblotting, RNA interference, immunocytochemistry, proliferation, and migration assays.
Results: We identify here a previously unreported genetic susceptibility to melanoma and melanocytic nevi, familial duplications of gene PPP2R3B. This encodes PR70, a regulatory unit of critical phosphatase PP2A. Duplications increase expression of PR70 in human nevus, and increased expression in melanoma tissue correlates with survival via a nonimmunological mechanism. PPP2R3B overexpression induces pigment cell switching toward proliferation and away from migration. Importantly, this is independent of the known microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF)-controlled switch, instead driven by C21orf91. Finally, C21orf91 is demonstrated to be downstream of MITF as well as PR70.
Conclusion: This work confirms the power of a rare disease approach, identifying a previously unreported copy-number change predisposing to melanocytic neoplasia, and discovers C21orf91 as a potentially targetable hub in the control of phenotype switching.