Translational genomics of nasopharyngeal cancer

Chi Man Tsang, Vivian Wai Yan Lui, Jeffrey P. Bruce, Trevor J. Pugh, Kwok Wai Lo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), also named the Cantonese cancer, is a unique cancer with strong etiological association with infection of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). With particularly high prevalence in Southeast Asia, the involvement of EBV and genetic aberrations contributive to NPC tumorigenesis have remained unclear for decades. Recently, genomic analysis of NPC has defined it as a genetically homogeneous cancer, driven largely by NF-κB signaling caused by either somatic aberrations of NF-κB negative regulators or by overexpression of the latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1), an EBV viral oncoprotein. This represents a landmark finding of the NPC genome. Exome and RNA sequencing data from new EBV-positive NPC models also highlight the importance of PI3K pathway aberrations in NPC. We also realize for the first time that NPC mutational burden, mutational signatures, MAPK/PI3K aberrations, and MHC Class I gene aberrations, are prognostic for patient outcome. Together, these multiple genomic discoveries begin to shape the focus of NPC therapy development. Given the challenge of NF-κB targeting in human cancers, more innovative drug discovery approaches should be explored to target the unique atypical NF-κB activation feature of NPC. Our next decade of NPC research should focus on further identification of the -omic landscapes of recurrent and metastatic NPC, development of gene-based precision medicines, as well as large-scale drug screening with the newly developed and well-characterized EBV-positive NPC models. Focused preclinical and clinical investigations on these major directions may identify new and effective targeting strategies to further improve survival of NPC patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-100
Number of pages17
JournalSeminars in Cancer Biology
StatePublished - Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Genome sequencing
  • Molecular targets
  • NF-κB signaling pathways
  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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