Background: The homeobox (HOX) family consists of 39 genes whose expressions are tightly controlled and coordinated within the family, during development. We performed a comprehensive analysis of this gene family in cancer settings. Methods: Gene correlation analysis was performed using breast cancer data available in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and data from the patients admitted to our hospital. We also analyzed the data of normal breast tissue (GSE20437). We next collected gene expression and prognosis data of breast cancer patients (GSE11121, GSE7390, GSE3494, and GSE2990) and performed unsupervised hierarchal clustering by the HOX gene expression pattern and compared prognosis. We additionally performed this analysis to leukemia (available in TCGA) and sarcoma (GSE20196) data. Results: Gene correlation analysis showed that the proximal HOX genes exhibit strong interactions and are expressed together in breast cancer, similar to the expression observed during development. However, in normal breast tissue, less interactions were observed. Breast cancer microarray meta-data classified by the HOX gene expression pattern predicted the prognosis of luminal B breast cancer patients (p = 0.016). Leukemia (p = 0.00016) and sarcoma (p = 0.018) presented similar results. The Wnt signaling pathway, one of the major upstream signals of HOX genes in development, was activated in the poor prognostic group. Interestingly, poor prognostic cancer presented stronger correlation in the gene family compared to favorable prognostic cancer. Conclusion: Comprehensive analysis of the HOX family demonstrated their similar roles in cancer and development, and indicated that the strong interaction of HOX genes might be specific to malignancies, especially in the case of poor prognostic cancer.
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