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1.  Central role of Snail1 in the regulation of EMT and resistance in cancer: a target for therapeutic intervention 
Snail1 is the founding member of the Snail superfamily of zinc-finger transcription factors, which also includes Snail2 (Slug) and Snail3 (Smuc). The superfamily is involved in cell differentiation and survival, two processes central in cancer research. Encoded by the SNAI1 gene located on human chromosome 20q13.2, Snail1 is composed of 264 amino acids and usually acts as a transcriptional repressor. Phosphorylation and nuclear localization of Snail1, governed by PI3K and Wnt signaling pathways crosstalk, are critical in Snail1’s regulation. Snail1 has a pivotal role in the regulation of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), the process by which epithelial cells acquire a migratory, mesenchymal phenotype, as a result of its repression of E-cadherin. Snail1-induced EMT involves the loss of E-cadherin and claudins with concomitant upregulation of vimentin and fibronectin, among other biomarkers. While essential to normal developmental processes such as gastrulation, EMT is associated with metastasis, the cancer stem cell phenotype, and the regulation of chemo and immune resistance in cancer. Snail1 expression is a common sign of poor prognosis in metastatic cancer, and tumors with elevated Snail1 expression are disproportionately difficult to eradicate by current therapeutic treatments. The significance of Snail1 as a prognostic indicator, its involvement in the regulation of EMT and metastasis, and its roles in both drug and immune resistance point out that Snail1 is an attractive target for tumor growth inhibition and a target for sensitization to cytotoxic drugs.
PMCID: PMC4237825  PMID: 25084828
Cancer; EMT; Metastasis; Resistance; Snail; Stem cells
2.  Snail and the miR-200 Family Act in Opposition to Regulate EMT and Germ Layer Fate Restriction in Differentiating ES Cells 
Stem Cells (Dayton, Ohio)  2011;29(5):764-776.
The reprogramming of somatic cells to iPS cells requires a mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition (MET). While differentiating ES cells can undergo the reverse process or epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), little is known about the role of EMT in ES cell differentiation and fate commitment. Here, we show that Snail homolog 1 (Snail) is expressed during ES cell differentiation and is capable of inducing EMT on day 2 of ES cell differentiation. Induction of EMT by Snail promotes mesoderm commitment while repressing markers of the primitive ectoderm and epiblast. Snail’s impact on differentiation can be partly explained through it’s regulation of a number of ES cell-associated microRNAs (miRNAs), including the miR-200 family. The miR-200 family is normally expressed in ES cells but is down-regulated in a Wnt-dependent manner during EMT. Maintenance of miR-200 expression stalls differentiating ES cells at the epiblast-like stem cell (EpiSC) stage. Consistent with a role for Activin in maintaining the EpiSC state, we find that inhibition of Activin signaling decreases miR-200 expression and allows EMT to proceed with a bias toward neuroectoderm commitment. Furthermore, miR-200 requires Activin to efficiently maintain cells at the epiblast stage. Together, these findings demonstrate that Snail and miR-200 act in opposition to regulate EMT and exit from the EpiSC stage towards induction of germ layer fates. By modulating expression levels of Snail, Activin, and miR-200, we are able to control the order in which cells undergo EMT and transition out of the EpiSC state.
PMCID: PMC3339404  PMID: 21394833
Cell Differentiation; Cell Lineage; Embryonic Stem Cells; Mesoderm; Transcription Factors; MicroRNAs
3.  Snail controls the mesenchymal phenotype and drives erlotinib resistance in Oral epithelial and HNSCC cells 
The presence of regional metastases in HNSCC patients is a common and adverse event associated with poor prognosis. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that mediate HNSCC metastasis may enable identification of novel therapeutic targets. Our recent work on human HNSCC tissues underlies Snail’s role as a molecular prognostic marker for HNSCC. Snail positivity is significantly predictive of poorly differentiated, lymphovascular invasive, as well as regionally metastatic tumors. We recently reported the role of Snail in the inflammation-induced promotion of EMT in HNSCC. However, other important Snail-dependent malignant phenotypes have not been fully explored. Here, we investigate the capacity of Snail to drive EMT in human oral epithelial cell lines, and its ability to confer drug resistance.
Snail was overexpressed HNSCC and oral epithelial cell lines. AIG assays, wound healing assays, invasion & migration assays, spheroid modeling, and cell survival assays were performed.
The overexpression of Snail in human HNSCC and oral epithelial cell lines drives EMT. The sole transfection of Snail confers the expression of a mesenchymal molecular signature including down-regulation of the epithelial adherens, such as E-cadherin and β-catenin, and induction of mesenchymal markers, Snail overexpressing cell lines demonstrate rapid growth in Anchorage-independent growth assays; a decreased capacity to form tight spheroids; increased resistance to erlotinib; and have an increased capacity for invasion.
Snail controls the mesenchymal phenotype and drives erlotinib resistance in HNSCC cells. Snail may prove to be a useful marker in predicting EGFR inhibitor responsiveness.
PMCID: PMC4167686  PMID: 22568942
4.  The Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition Factor SNAIL Paradoxically Enhances Reprogramming 
Stem Cell Reports  2014;3(5):691-698.
Reprogramming of fibroblasts to induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) entails a mesenchymal to epithelial transition (MET). While attempting to dissect the mechanism of MET during reprogramming, we observed that knockdown (KD) of the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) factor SNAI1 (SNAIL) paradoxically reduced, while overexpression enhanced, reprogramming efficiency in human cells and in mouse cells, depending on strain. We observed nuclear localization of SNAI1 at an early stage of fibroblast reprogramming and using mouse fibroblasts expressing a knockin SNAI1-YFP reporter found cells expressing SNAI1 reprogrammed at higher efficiency. We further demonstrated that SNAI1 binds the let-7 promoter, which may play a role in reduced expression of let-7 microRNAs, enforced expression of which, early in the reprogramming process, compromises efficiency. Our data reveal an unexpected role for the EMT factor SNAI1 in reprogramming somatic cells to pluripotency.
•Knockdown of SNAIL reduces and overexpression enhances reprogramming•SNAIL-YFP-positive fractions reprogram at higher efficiency•Let-7 decreases early in reprogramming, and expression of SNAIL reduces let-7•SNAIL binds to the promoters of let-7 family members during reprogramming
Unternaehrer and colleagues show that SNAI1, a factor associated with epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, promotes reprogramming of somatic cells to pluripotency, a counterintuitive discovery since reprogramming requires the opposite process, mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition. SNAI1 expression is temporally associated with downregulation of the microRNA let-7, and SNAI1 binds the let-7 promoter consistent with direct regulation.
PMCID: PMC4235745  PMID: 25316190
5.  14-3-3 binding sites in the Snail protein are essential for Snail-mediated transcriptional repression and epithelial-mesenchymal differentiation 
Cancer research  2010;70(11):4385-4393.
The Snail transcription factor is a repressor and a master regulator of epithelial-mesenchymal transition events (EMT) in normal embryonic development and during tumor metastases. Snail directly regulates genes affecting cell adhesion, motility and polarity. Invasive tumor cells express high levels of Snail and it is a marker for aggressive disease and poor prognosis. Transcriptional repression and EMT induction by Snail requires binding to its obligate corepressor, the LIM protein Ajuba. It is unclear how this complex is assembled and maintained on Snail target genes. Here we define functional 14-3-3 binding motifs in Snail and Ajuba which selectively bind 14-3-3 protein isoforms. In Snail, a NH2-terminal motif in the repression domain cooperates with a COOH-terminal, high affinity motif for binding to 14-3-3 proteins. Coordinate mutation of both motifs abolishes 14-3-3 binding and inhibits Snail-mediated gene repression and EMT differentiation. Snail, 14-3-3 proteins, and Ajuba form a ternary complex which is readily detected via ChIP at the endogenous E-cadherin promoter. Collectively, these data show that 14-3-3 proteins are new components of the Snail transcriptional repression machinery and mediate its important biological functions.
PMCID: PMC2894621  PMID: 20501852
Snail; 14-3-3; Ajuba; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; transcriptional repression
6.  Snail and the microRNA-200 Family Act in Opposition to Regulate Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition and Germ Layer Fate Restriction in Differentiating ESCs 
Stem Cells (Dayton, Ohio)  2011;29(5):764-776.
The reprogramming of somatic cells to inducible pluripotent stem cells requires a mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition. While differentiating ESCs can undergo the reverse process or epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), little is known about the role of EMT in ESC differentiation and fate commitment. Here, we show that Snail homolog 1 (Snail) is expressed during ESC differentiation and is capable of inducing EMT on day 2 of ESC differentiation. Induction of EMT by Snail promotes mesoderm commitment while repressing markers of the primitive ectoderm and epiblast. Snail's impact on differentiation can be partly explained through its regulation of a number of ESC-associated microRNAs, including the microRNA-200 (miR-200) family. The miR-200 family is normally expressed in ESCs but is downregulated in a Wnt-dependent manner during EMT. Maintenance of miR-200 expression stalls differentiating ESCs at the epiblast-like stem cell (EpiSC) stage. Consistent with a role for activin in maintaining the EpiSC state, we find that inhibition of activin signaling decreases miR-200 expression and allows EMT to proceed with a bias toward neuroectoderm commitment. Furthermore, miR-200 requires activin to efficiently maintain cells at the epiblast stage. Together, these findings demonstrate that Snail and miR-200 act in opposition to regulate EMT and exit from the EpiSC stage toward induction of germ layer fates. By modulating expression levels of Snail, activin, and miR-200, we are able to control the order in which cells undergo EMT and transition out of the EpiSC state. Stem Cells 2011;29:764–776
PMCID: PMC3339404  PMID: 21394833
Cell differentiation; Cell lineage; Embryonic stem cells; Mesoderm; Transcription factors; MicroRNAs
7.  Snail promotes CXCR2 ligand dependent tumor progression in NSCLC 
As a transcriptional repressor of E-cadherin, Snail has predominantly been associated with epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), invasion, and metastasis. However, other important Snail-dependent malignant phenotypes have not been fully explored. Here, we investigate the contributions of Snail to the progression of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
Experimental Design
Immunohistochemistry was performed to quantify and localize Snail in human lung cancer tissues, and tissue microarray analysis (TMA) was utilized to correlate these findings with survival. NSCLC cell lines gene-modified to stably over-express Snail were evaluated in vivo in two severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) murine tumor models. Differential gene expression between Snail over-expressing and control cell lines was evaluated using gene expression microarray analysis.
Snail is up-regulated in human NSCLC tissue, and high levels of Snail expression correlate with decreased survival (p<0.026). In a heterotopic model, mice bearing Snail over-expressing tumors developed increased primary tumor burden (p=0.008). In an orthotopic model, mice bearing Snail over-expressing tumors also demonstrated a trend toward increased metastases. In addition, Snail over-expression led to increased angiogenesis in primary tumors as measured by MECA-32 (p<0.05) positivity and CXCL8 (p=0.002) and CXCL5 (p=0.0003) concentrations in tumor homogenates. Demonstrating the importance of these pro-angiogenic chemokines, the Snail-mediated increase in tumor burden was abrogated with CXCR2 blockade. Gene expression analysis also revealed Snail-associated differential gene expression with the potential to affect angiogenesis and diverse aspects of lung cancer progression.
Snail up-regulation plays a role in human NSCLC by promoting tumor progression mediated by CXCR2 ligands.
PMCID: PMC2783274  PMID: 19887480
Snail; lung cancer; angiogenesis; CXCL8; CXCL5
8.  Snail Promotes Epithelial Mesenchymal Transition in Breast Cancer Cells in Part via Activation of Nuclear ERK2 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e104987.
Snail transcription factor is up-regulated in several cancers and associated with increased tumor migration and invasion via induction of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). MAPK (ERK1/2) signaling regulates cellular processes including cell motility, adhesion, and invasion. We investigated the regulation of ERK1/2 by Snail in breast cancer cells. ERK1/2 activity (p-ERK) was higher in breast cancer patient tissue as compared to normal tissue. Snail and p-ERK were increased in several breast cancer cell lines as compared to normal mammary epithelial cells. Snail knockdown in MDA-MB-231 and T47-D breast cancer cells decreased or re-localized p-ERK from the nuclear compartment to the cytoplasm. Snail overexpression in MCF-7 breast cancer cells induced EMT, increased cell migration, decreased cell adhesion and also increased tumorigenicity. Snail induced nuclear translocation of p-ERK, and the activation of its subcellular downstream effector, Elk-1. Inhibiting MAPK activity with UO126 or knockdown of ERK2 isoform with siRNA in MCF-7 Snail cells reverted EMT induced by Snail as shown by decreased Snail and vimentin expression, decreased cell migration and increased cell adhesion. Overall, our data suggest that ERK2 isoform activation by Snail in aggressive breast cancer cells leads to EMT associated with increased cell migration and decreased cell adhesion. This regulation is enhanced by positive feedback regulation of Snail by ERK2. Therefore, therapeutic targeting of ERK2 isoform may be beneficial for breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC4133359  PMID: 25122124
9.  Overexpression of Snail is associated with lymph node metastasis and poor prognosis in patients with gastric cancer 
BMC Cancer  2012;12:521.
Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) plays a significant role in tumor progression and invasion. Snail is a known regulator of EMT in various malignant tumors. This study investigated the role of Snail in gastric cancer.
We examined the effects of silenced or overexpressed Snail using lenti-viral constructs in gastric cancer cells. Immunohistochemical analysis of tissue microarrays from 314 patients with gastric adenocarcinoma (GC) was used to determine Snail’s clinicopathological and prognostic significance. Differential gene expression in 45 GC specimens with Snail overexpression was investigated using cDNA microarray analysis.
Silencing of Snail by shRNA decreased invasion and migration in GC cell lines. Conversely, Snail overexpression increased invasion and migration of gastric cancer cells, in line with increased VEGF and MMP11. Snail overexpression (≥75% positive nuclear staining) was also significantly associated with tumor progression (P < 0.001), lymph node metastases (P = 0.002), lymphovascular invasion (P = 0.002), and perineural invasion (P = 0.002) in the 314 GC patients, and with shorter survival (P = 0.023). cDNA microarray analysis revealed 213 differentially expressed genes in GC tissues with Snail overexpression, including genes related to metastasis and invasion.
Snail significantly affects invasiveness/migratory ability of GCs, and may also be used as a predictive biomarker for prognosis or aggressiveness of GCs.
PMCID: PMC3552976  PMID: 23151184
Stomach; Adenocarcinoma; Snail; Lymph node metastasis; Survival
10.  Cyclooxygenase-2 Expression Is Related to the Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition in Human Colon Cancers 
Yonsei Medical Journal  2009;50(6):818-824.
Down-regulation of E-cadherin is a hallmark of the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). EMT progression in cancer cells is associated with the loss of certain epithelial markers and the acquisition of a mesenchymal phenotype, as well as migratory activities. Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) expression is associated with tumor invasion and metastasis in colon cancer. This study investigated the relationship between E-cadherin and COX-2 in colon cancer cells and human colon tumors.
Materials and Methods
Colon cancer cell lines and immunohistochemistry were used.
E-cadherin expression was inversely related to the expressions of COX-2 and Snail in colon cancer cells. Ectopic expression of COX-2 or Snail reduced E-cadherin and induced a scattered, flattened phenotype with few intercellular contacts in colon cancer cells. Treatment of cancer cells with phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate increased the expressions of COX-2 and Snail, decreased 15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrogenase expression, and increased the cells' motility. In addition, exposure to prostaglandin E2 increased Snail expression and cell motility, and decreased E-cadherin expression. Membranous E-cadherin expression was lower in adenomas and cancers than in the adjacent, non-neoplastic epithelium. In contrast, the expressions of Snail and COX-2 were higher in cancers than in normal tissues and adenomas. The expressions of COX-2 and Snail increased in areas with abnormal E-cadherin expression. Moreover, COX-2 expression was related to higher tumor stages and was significantly higher in nodal metastatic lesions than primary cancers.
This study suggests that COX-2 may have a role in tumor metastasis via EMT.
PMCID: PMC2796410  PMID: 20046424
Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition; COX-2; E-cadherin; Snail; colon cancers
11.  The FGFR1 inhibitor PD173074 induces mesenchymal–epithelial transition through the transcription factor AP-1 
British Journal of Cancer  2013;109(8):2248-2258.
Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a crucial process in cancer progression that provides cancer cells with the ability to escape from the primary focus, invade stromal tissues and migrate to distant regions. Cell lines that lack E-cadherin show increased tumorigenesis and metastasis, and the expression levels of E-cadherin and Snail correlate inversely with the prognosis of patients suffering from breast cancer or oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). Moreover, recent studies have shown that most EMT cases are regulated by soluble growth factors or cytokines. Among these factors, fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) execute diverse functions by binding to and activating members of the FGF receptor (FGFR) family, including FGFR1–4. Fibroblast growth factor receptor 1 is an oncoprotein that is involved in tumorigenesis, and PD173074 is known to be a selective inhibitor of FGFR1. However, the roles of FGFR1 and FGFR1 inhibitors have not yet been examined in detail.
Here, we investigated the expression of FGFR1 in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and the role of the FGFR1 inhibitor PD173074 in carcinogenesis and the EMT process.
Fibroblast growth factor receptor 1 was highly expressed in 54% of HNSCC cases and was significantly correlated with malignant behaviours. Nuclear FGFR1 expression was also observed and correlated well with histological differentiation, the pattern of invasion and abundant nuclear polymorphism. Fibroblast growth factor receptor 1 was also overexpressed in EMT cell lines compared with non-EMT cell lines. Furthermore, treatment of HOC313 cells with PD173074 suppressed cellular proliferation and invasion and reduced ERK1/2 and p38 activation. These cells also demonstrated morphological changes, transforming from spindle- to cobble stone-like in shape. In addition, the expression levels of certain matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), whose genes contain activator protein-1 (AP-1) promoter sites, as well as Snail1 and Snail2 were reduced following PD173074 treatment.
Taken together, these data suggest that PD173074 inhibits the MAPK pathway, which regulates the activity of AP-1 and induces MET. Furthermore, this induction of MET likely suppresses cancer cell growth and invasion.
PMCID: PMC3798957  PMID: 24045665
FGFR1; E-cadherin; Snail; AP-1; EMT; MET
12.  Nuclear expression of Snail1 in borderline and malignant epithelial ovarian tumours is associated with tumour progression 
BMC Cancer  2009;9:289.
Transcription factor Snail1 has a central role in induction of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). The aim of the present study was to elucidate the expression of Snail1 protein during epithelial ovarian tumourigenesis and to study the association of Snail1 expression with clinicopathological factors and prognosis.
Epithelial and stromal fibroblast-like fusiform cells of 14 normal ovarian samples, 21 benign, 24 borderline and 74 malignant epithelial ovarian tumours were studied for Snail1 protein using immunohistochemistry.
Nuclei of surface peritoneal cells of normal ovaries (n = 14) were regarded as negative for Snail1. Nuclear expression of Snail1 protein in epithelial ovarian tumours was increased during tumour progression from precursor lesions into carcinomas both in epithelial (p = 0.006) and stromal cells (p = 0.007). Nuclei of benign tumours (n = 21) were negative for Snail1. In borderline tumours (n = 24) occasional positive epithelial cells were found in 2 (8%) samples and in 3 (13%) samples stromal cells were focally positive for Snail1. In carcinomas (n = 74) focal Snail1 staining in epithelial cells was present in 17 (23%) tumours, and in stromal cells in 18 (24%) tumours. Nuclear expression of Snail1 in epithelial or stromal cells was not associated with clinicopathological factors or prognosis.
Nuclear Snail1 expression seems to be related to tumour progression, and expression in borderline tumours indicates a role for Snail1 in early epithelial ovarian tumour development. Snail1 also appears to function more generally in tissue remodelling as positive staining was demonstrated in stromal cells.
PMCID: PMC3087336  PMID: 19695091
13.  Snail negatively regulates cell adhesion to extracellular matrix and integrin expression via the MAPK pathway in prostate cancer cells 
Cell Adhesion & Migration  2011;5(3):249-257.
Snail transcription factor induces epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in which the epithelial cells downregulate cell-cell adhesion genes such as E-cadherin and upregulate mesenchymal genes such as vimentin, leading to increased invasion and migration. Very little is known about the role of Snail in cellular adhesion to the extracellular matrix. We hypothesized that Snail will lead to decreased cellular adhesion to fibronectin and collagen I matrix through integrin regulation, concomitant with increased cell migration. Androgen-independent C4-2 cells, an aggressive subline of androgen-dependent LNCaP cells, exhibited increased cell migration on fibronectin and collagen I as compared to LNCaP cells, which was reversed by Snail knockdown in C4-2 cells. ARCaP and LNCaP prostate cancer cells stably transfected with Snail displayed decreased adhesion and increased cell migration on fibronectin and collagen I as compared to control Neo-transfected cells, which was reversed by Snail knockdown. Flow cytometry analysis revealed a decrease in α5, α2 and β1 integrin expression in ARCaP Snail-transfected cells that was reversed in Snail knockdown cells. We also observed an increase in ERK phosphorylation in ARCaP Snail-transfected cells as compared to control ARCaP-Neo cells, and inhibition of the MAPK pathway with UO126 inhibitor in ARCaP Snail-transfected cells abrogated Snail-mediated decrease in cell adhesion and reinduced α5, α2 and β1 integrin expression. Collectively, these studies define a new role for Snail transcription factor in cell adhesion to the ECM, which may be mediated by MAPK signaling, and may be crucial for cell detachment and subsequent metastasis.
PMCID: PMC3210209  PMID: 21478672
snail; cell adhesion; integrin; extracellular matrix; prostate cancer
14.  Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor-γ Inhibits Transformed Growth of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Cells through Selective Suppression of Snail12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2010;12(3):224-234.
Work from our laboratory and others has demonstrated that activation of the nuclear receptor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ (PPARγ) inhibits transformed growth of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines in vitro and in vivo. We have demonstrated that activation of PPARγ promotes epithelial differentiation of NSCLC by increasing expression of E-cadherin, as well as inhibiting expression of COX-2 and nuclear factor-κB. The Snail family of transcription factors, which includes Snail (Snail1), Slug (Snail2), and ZEB1, is an important regulator of epithelial-mesenchymal transition, as well as cell survival. The goal of this study was to determine whether the biological responses to rosiglitazone, a member of the thiazolidinedione family of PPARγ activators, are mediated through the regulation of Snail family members. Our results indicate that, in two independent NSCLC cell lines, rosiglitazone specifically decreased expression of Snail, with no significant effect on either Slug or ZEB1. Suppression of Snail using short hairpin RNA silencing mimicked the effects of PPARγ activation, in inhibiting anchorage-independent growth, promoting acinar formation in three-dimensional culture, and inhibiting invasiveness. This was associated with the increased expression of E-cadherin and decreased expression of COX-2 and matrix metaloproteinases. Conversely, overexpression of Snail blocked the biological responses to rosiglitazone, increasing anchorage-independent growth, invasiveness, and promoting epithelial-mesenchymal transition. The suppression of Snail expression by rosiglitazone seemed to be independent of GSK-3 signaling but was rather mediated through suppression of extracellular signal-regulated kinase activity. These findings suggest that selective regulation of Snail may be critical in mediating the antitumorigenic effects of PPARγ activators.
PMCID: PMC2838440  PMID: 20234816
15.  A p53/miRNA-34 axis regulates Snail1-dependent cancer cell epithelial–mesenchymal transition 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2011;195(3):417-433.
Expression of the essential EMT inducer Snail1 is inhibited by miR-34 through a p53-dependent regulatory pathway.
Snail1 is a zinc finger transcriptional repressor whose pathological expression has been linked to cancer cell epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) programs and the induction of tissue-invasive activity, but pro-oncogenic events capable of regulating Snail1 activity remain largely uncharacterized. Herein, we demonstrate that p53 loss-of-function or mutation promotes cancer cell EMT by de-repressing Snail1 protein expression and activity. In the absence of wild-type p53 function, Snail1-dependent EMT is activated in colon, breast, and lung carcinoma cells as a consequence of a decrease in miRNA-34 levels, which suppress Snail1 activity by binding to highly conserved 3′ untranslated regions in Snail1 itself as well as those of key Snail1 regulatory molecules, including β-catenin, LEF1, and Axin2. Although p53 activity can impact cell cycle regulation, apoptosis, and DNA repair pathways, the EMT and invasion programs initiated by p53 loss of function or mutation are completely dependent on Snail1 expression. These results identify a new link between p53, miR-34, and Snail1 in the regulation of cancer cell EMT programs.
PMCID: PMC3206336  PMID: 22024162
16.  The Transcription Factors Snail and Slug Activate the Transforming Growth Factor-Beta Signaling Pathway in Breast Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26514.
The transcriptional repressors Snail and Slug are situated at the core of several signaling pathways proposed to mediate epithelial to mesenchymal transition or EMT, which has been implicated in tumor metastasis. EMT involves an alteration from an organized, epithelial cell structure to a mesenchymal, invasive and migratory phenotype. In order to obtain a global view of the impact of Snail and Slug expression, we performed a microarray experiment using the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line, which does not express detectable levels of Snail or Slug. MCF-7 cells were infected with Snail, Slug or control adenovirus, and RNA samples isolated at various time points were analyzed across all transcripts. Our analyses indicated that Snail and Slug regulate many genes in common, but also have distinct sets of gene targets. Gene set enrichment analyses indicated that Snail and Slug directed the transcriptome of MCF-7 cells from a luminal towards a more complex pattern that includes many features of the claudin-low breast cancer signature. Of particular interest, genes involved in the TGF-beta signaling pathway are upregulated, while genes responsible for a differentiated morphology are downregulated following Snail or Slug expression. Further we noticed increased histone acetylation at the promoter region of the transforming growth factor beta-receptor II (TGFBR2) gene following Snail or Slug expression. Inhibition of the TGF-beta signaling pathway using selective small-molecule inhibitors following Snail or Slug addition resulted in decreased cell migration with no impact on the repression of cell junction molecules by Snail and Slug. We propose that there are two regulatory modules embedded within EMT: one that involves repression of cell junction molecules, and the other involving cell migration via TGF-beta and/or other pathways.
PMCID: PMC3197668  PMID: 22028892
17.  Transcription factors related to epithelial mesenchymal transition in tumor center and margin in invasive lung adenocarcinoma 
The tumor microenvironment has many roles involving tumor progression, invasion and metastasis. The tumor cells at the tumor border loose epithelial properties and acquire mesenchymal features. This, epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been suggested to be an important process for tissue and lymphovascular invasion. Pulmonary tissue samples from 15 patients with primary adenocarcinoma were evaluated with using immunofluorescence multi-staining the EMT-associated markers including E-cadherin and alpha-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA), and transcription factors including E-SNAIL and SLUG, and ZEB1. The data were analyzed in specific area, such as tumor center and tumor border. In this study we show that the invasive adenocarcinoma differentially expressed SNAIL and SLUG, and Zeb1 and it was associated with the loss of epithelial marker (E-cadherin) and gaining of mesenchymal marker (α-SMA) at the invasive border of lung carcinoma. The positive rates of SNAIL and ZEB1 were 26.7% and 0% in the tumor center and 40% and 20% in tumor margin, respectively. In addition, the expression of both SNAIL and ZEB1 at the border of tumor was observed in two cases (2/10). These two cases were associated with lymph node metastasis and advanced stage. The process of EMT has been suggested to be of prime importance for tissue and lymphovascular invasion. The process of EMT may be activated in the tumor border of lung adenocarcinoma. Related transcription factors, such as SNAIL and SLUG, and ZEB1, might be induced by paracrine effects of surrounded inflammatory cells and fibroblasts.
PMCID: PMC4129023  PMID: 25120788
Epithelial mesenchymal transition; lung adenocarcinoma; SNAIL; SLUG; ZEB1
18.  Snail transcription factor negatively regulates maspin tumor suppressor in human prostate cancer cells 
BMC Cancer  2012;12:336.
Maspin, a putative tumor suppressor that is down-regulated in breast and prostate cancer, has been associated with decreased cell motility. Snail transcription factor is a zinc finger protein that is increased in breast cancer and is associated with increased tumor motility and invasion by induction of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). We investigated the molecular mechanisms by which Snail increases tumor motility and invasion utilizing prostate cancer cells.
Expression levels were analyzed by RT-PCR and western blot analyses. Cell motility and invasion assays were performed, while Snail regulation and binding to maspin promoter was analyzed by luciferase reporter and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays.
Snail protein expression was higher in different prostate cancer cells lines as compared to normal prostate epithelial cells, which correlated inversely with maspin expression. Snail overexpression in 22Rv1 prostate cancer cells inhibited maspin expression and led to increased migration and invasion. Knockdown of Snail in DU145 and C4-2 cancer cells resulted in up-regulation of maspin expression, concomitant with decreased migration. Transfection of Snail into 22Rv1 or LNCaP cells inhibited maspin promoter activity, while stable knockdown of Snail in C4-2 cells increased promoter activity. ChIP analysis showed that Snail is recruited to the maspin promoter in 22Rv1 cells.
Overall, this is the first report showing that Snail can negatively regulate maspin expression by directly repressing maspin promoter activity, leading to increased cell migration and invasion. Therefore, therapeutic targeting of Snail may be useful to re-induce expression of maspin tumor suppressor and prevent prostate cancer tumor progression.
PMCID: PMC3437215  PMID: 22857708
Snail; Maspin; Prostate cancer
19.  Staurosporine augments EGF-mediated EMT in PMC42-LA cells through actin depolymerisation, focal contact size reduction and Snail1 induction – A model for cross-modulation 
BMC Cancer  2009;9:235.
A feature of epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) relevant to tumour dissemination is the reorganization of actin cytoskeleton/focal contacts, influencing cellular ECM adherence and motility. This is coupled with the transcriptional repression of E-cadherin, often mediated by Snail1, Snail2 and Zeb1/δEF1. These genes, overexpressed in breast carcinomas, are known targets of growth factor-initiated pathways, however it is less clear how alterations in ECM attachment cross-modulate to regulate these pathways. EGF induces EMT in the breast cancer cell line PMC42-LA and the kinase inhibitor staurosporine (ST) induces EMT in embryonic neural epithelial cells, with F-actin de-bundling and disruption of cell-cell adhesion, via inhibition of aPKC.
PMC42-LA cells were treated for 72 h with 10 ng/ml EGF, 40 nM ST, or both, and assessed for expression of E-cadherin repressor genes (Snail1, Snail2, Zeb1/δEF1) and EMT-related genes by QRT-PCR, multiplex tandem PCR (MT-PCR) and immunofluorescence +/- cycloheximide. Actin and focal contacts (paxillin) were visualized by confocal microscopy. A public database of human breast cancers was assessed for expression of Snail1 and Snail2 in relation to outcome.
When PMC42-LA were treated with EGF, Snail2 was the principal E-cadherin repressor induced. With ST or ST+EGF this shifted to Snail1, with more extreme EMT and Zeb1/δEF1 induction seen with ST+EGF. ST reduced stress fibres and focal contact size rapidly and independently of gene transcription. Gene expression analysis by MT-PCR indicated that ST repressed many genes which were induced by EGF (EGFR, CAV1, CTGF, CYR61, CD44, S100A4) and induced genes which alter the actin cytoskeleton (NLF1, NLF2, EPHB4). Examination of the public database of breast cancers revealed tumours exhibiting higher Snail1 expression have an increased risk of disease-recurrence. This was not seen for Snail2, and Zeb1/δEF1 showed a reverse correlation with lower expression values being predictive of increased risk.
ST in combination with EGF directed a greater EMT via actin depolymerisation and focal contact size reduction, resulting in a loosening of cell-ECM attachment along with Snail1-Zeb1/δEF1 induction. This appeared fundamentally different to the EGF-induced EMT, highlighting the multiple pathways which can regulate EMT. Our findings add support for a functional role for Snail1 in invasive breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC2717979  PMID: 19604397
20.  FoxM1 overexpression promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition and metastasis of hepatocellular carcinoma 
AIM: To investigate the expression of forkhead box protein M1 (FoxM1) in the process of epithelial mesenchymal transition in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and its role in metastasis.
METHODS: FoxM1 and E-cadherin expression in HCC tissue microarray specimens was evaluated by immunohistochemical staining, and statistical methods were applied to analyze the correlation between FoxM1 and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Kaplan-Meier analysis of the correlation between the FoxM1 expression level and recurrence or overall survival of HCC patients was performed. The expression of FoxM1, E-cadherin and snail homologue 1 (SNAI1) in HCC cell lines was evaluated by real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and Western blot. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) was used to induce EMT and stimulate cell migration in HCC cells. The expression of FoxM1 and SNAI1 was regulated by transfection with plasmids pcDNA3.1 and siRNAs in vitro. The occurrence of EMT was evaluated by Transwell assay, morphologic analysis and detection of the expression of EMT markers (E-cadherin and vimentin). Luciferase and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays were used to evaluate whether SNAI1 is a direct transcriptional target of FoxM1.
RESULTS: FoxM1 expression was increased significantly in HCC compared with para-carcinoma (10.7 ± 0.9 vs 8.2 ± 0.7, P < 0.05) and normal hepatic (10.7 ± 0.9 vs 2.7 ± 0.4, P < 0.05) tissues. Overexpression of FoxM1 was correlated with HCC tumor size, tumor number, macrovascular invasion and higher TNM stage, but was negatively correlated with E-cadherin expression in microarray specimens and in cell lines. FoxM1 overexpression was correlated significantly with HCC metastasis and EMT. In vitro, we found that FoxM1 plays a key role in HGF-induced EMT, and overexpression of FoxM1 could suppress E-cadherin expression and induce EMT changes, which were associated with increased HCC cell invasiveness. Next, we confirmed that FOXM1 directly binds to and activates the SNAI1 promoter, and we identified SNAI1 as a direct transcriptional target of FOXM1. Moreover, inhibiting the expression of SNAI1 significantly inhibited FoxM1-mediated EMT.
CONCLUSION: FoxM1 overexpression promotes EMT and metastasis of HCC, and SNAI1 plays a critical role in FoxM1-mediated EMT.
PMCID: PMC4284335  PMID: 25574092
Forkhead box protein M1; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Snail homolog 1; E-cadherin
21.  Heterogeneity of expression of epithelial–mesenchymal transition markers in melanocytes and melanoma cell lines 
The epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) describes a reversible switch from an epithelial-like to a mesenchymal-like phenotype. It is essential for the development of the normal epithelium and also contributes to the invasive properties of carcinomas. At the molecular level, the EMT transition is characterized by a series of coordinated changes including downregulation of the junctional protein E-cadherin (CDH1), up-regulation of transcriptional repressors of E-cadherin such as Snail (SNAI1) and Slug (SNAI2), and up-regulation of N-cadherin. We wished to determine whether cultured normal melanocytes and melanoma cell lines, which are derived from the neural crest, showed signs of a similarly coordinated phenotypic switch. We investigated normal melanocytes and 25 cell lines derived from New Zealand patients with metastatic melanoma. Most lines had been previously genotyped for common mutations such as BRAF, NRAS, PIK3CA (phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase), TP53 (p53), and CDKN2A (p16). Expression of E-cadherin, N-cadherin, microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF), Snail, Slug, Axl, p53, and Hdm2 was compared by western blotting. Normal melanocytes expressed each of these proteins except for Snail, while normal melanocytes and almost every melanoma line expressed Slug. Expression of individual markers among different melanoma lines varied from high to low or undetectable. Quantitation of western blots showed that expression of MITF-M, the melanocyte-specific isoform of MITF, was positively related to that of E-cadherin but inversely related to that of N-cadherin and Axl. There was also no apparent relationship between expression of any particular marker and the presence of BRAF, NRAS, PIK3CA, TP53, or CDKN2A mutations. The results suggest that melanomas do not show the classical epithelial and mesenchymal phenotypes but rather display either high E-cadherin/high MITF-M expression on one hand, or high N-cadherin/high Axl expression on the other. These may correspond to differentiated and invasive phenotypes in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3668138  PMID: 23755070
E-cadherin; Axl; MITF; melanocyte; melanoma
22.  Snail1 expression in colorectal cancer and its correlation with clinical and pathological parameters 
BMC Cancer  2013;13:145.
Snail1 is a transcription regulator of E-cadherin. The loss of E-cadherin seems to be a crucial step in the process of Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). EMT initiates invasion and proliferation in many tumours. Overexpression of Snail1 is known to be associated with poor outcome in several solid tumours. The aim of this study was to analyse its expression profile and prognostic significance in colorectal cancer.
Tissue microarrays (TMA) containing paraffin-embedded primary colorectal cancer (CRC) tissue samples from 251 patients were used in this study. The expression of Snail1 and E-cadherin was assessed by immunohistochemistry in different tumour compartments, corresponding lymph node metastases and normal colonic mucosa. Intensity of staining was classified according to the Remmele score (standardized scoring system) as well as the semiquantitative score established by Blechschmidt et al.
Snail1 expression was observed in 76% of the CRC. Loss of E-cadherin was noted in 87% of the CRC. Snail1 positive tumours were significantly correlated with Snail1 positive lymph node metastases (p=0.03). There was no significant correlation between loss of E-cadherin and Snail1 expression, or between N-stage or grading and Snail1 expression. Kaplan-Meier survival analysis identified no prognostic impact of Snail1 expression on overall survival.
Snail1 expression was detectable in most of the CRC but showed no significant association with E-cadherin loss, clinical pathological characteristics or overall survival. The observed loss of E-cadherin could be explained by effects of other important EMT pathways, such as the Wnt-signalling cascade.
PMCID: PMC3617032  PMID: 23522088
Snail1; E-cadherin; Colorectal carcinoma; Prognostic factor; EMT
23.  Olfactomedin-1 activity identifies a cell invasion checkpoint during epithelial-mesenchymal transition in the chick embryonic heart 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2012;6(3):632-642.
Endothelia in the atrioventricular (AV) canal of the developing heart undergo a prototypical epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) to begin heart valve formation. Using an in vitro invasion assay, an extracellular matrix protein, Olfactomedin-1 (OLFM1), was found to increase mesenchymal cell numbers in AV canals from embryonic chick hearts. Treatment with both anti-OLFM1 antibody and siRNA targeting OLFM1 inhibits mesenchymal cell formation. OLFM1 does not alter cell proliferation, migration or apoptosis. Dispersion, but lack of invasion in the presence of inhibiting antibody, identifies a specific role for OLFM1 in cell invasion during EMT. This role is conserved in other epithelia, as OLFM1 similarly enhances invasion by MDCK epithelial cells in a transwell assay. Synergy is observed when TGFβ2 and OLFM1 are added to MDCK cell cultures, indicating that OLFM-1 activity is cooperative with TGFβ. Inhibition of both OLFM1 and TGFβ in heart invasion assays shows a similar cooperative role during development. To explore OLFM1 activity during EMT, representative EMT markers were examined. Effects of OLFM1 protein and anti-OLFM1 on transcripts of cell-cell adhesion molecules and the transcription factors Snail-1, Snail-2, Twist1 and Sox-9 argue that OLFM1 does not initiate EMT. Rather, regulation of transcripts of Zeb1 and Zeb2, secreted proteases and mesenchymal cell markers by both OLFM1 and anti-OLFM1 is consistent with regulation of the cell invasion step of EMT. We conclude that OLFM1 is present and necessary during EMT in the embryonic chick heart. Its role in cell invasion and mesenchymal cell gene regulation suggests an invasion checkpoint in EMT where OLFM1 acts to promote cell invasion into the three-dimensional matrix.
PMCID: PMC3634647  PMID: 23264563
24.  Down-regulation of the transcription factor snail in the placentas of patients with preeclampsia and in a rat model of preeclampsia 
Placental malfunction in preeclampsia is believed to be a consequence of aberrant differentiation of trophoblast lineages and changes in utero-placental oxygenation. The transcription factor Snail, a master regulator molecule of epithelial-mesenchymal transition in embryonic development and in cancer, is shown to be involved in trophoblast differentiation as well. Moreover, Snail can be controlled by oxidative stress and hypoxia. Therefore, we examined the expression of Snail and its downstream target, e-cadherin, in human normal term, preterm and preeclamptic placentas, and in pregnant rats that developed preeclampsia-like symptoms in the response to a 20-fold increase in sodium intake.
Western blotting analysis was used for comparative expression of Snail and e- cadherin in total protein extracts. Placental cells expressing Snail and e-cadherin were identified by immunohistochemical double-labeling technique.
The levels of Snail protein were decreased in human preeclamptic placentas by 30% (p < 0.01) compared to normal term, and in the rat model by 40% (p < 0.001) compared to control placentas. In preterm placentas, the levels of Snail expression varied, yet there was a strong trend toward statistical significance between preterm and preeclamptic placentas. In humans, e-cadherin protein level was 30% higher in preeclamptic (p < 0.05) placentas and similarly, but not significantly (p = 0.1), high in the preterm placentas compared to normal term. In the rat model of preeclampsia, e-cadherin was increased by 60% (p < 0.01). Immunohistochemical examination of human placentas demonstrated Snail-positive staining in the nuclei of the villous trophoblasts and mesenchymal cells and in the invasive trophoblasts of the decidua. In the rat placenta, the majority of Snail positive cells were spongiotrophoblasts of the junctional zone, while in the labyrinth, Snail-positive sinusoidal giant trophoblasts cells were found in some focal areas located close to the junctional zone.
We demonstrated that human preeclampsia and the salt-induced rat model of preeclampsia are associated with the reduced levels of Snail protein in placenta. Down-regulation of the transcription factor Snail in placental progenitor cell lineages, either by intrinsic defects and/or by extrinsic and maternal factors, may affect normal placenta development and function and thus contribute to the pathology of preeclampsia.
PMCID: PMC3298516  PMID: 22360878
Preeclampsia; Placenta; Snail; Trophoblast; E-cadherin
25.  Snail1 induces epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and tumor initiating stem cell characteristics 
BMC Cancer  2011;11:396.
Tumor initiating stem-like cells (TISCs) are a subset of neoplastic cells that possess distinct survival mechanisms and self-renewal characteristics crucial for tumor maintenance and propagation. The induction of epithelial-mesenchymal-transition (EMT) by TGFβ has been recently linked to the acquisition of TISC characteristics in breast cancer. In HCC, a TISC and EMT phenotype correlates with a worse prognosis. In this work, our aim is to elucidate the underlying mechanism by which cells acquire tumor initiating characteristics after EMT.
Gene and protein expression assays and Nanog-promoter luciferase reporter were utilized in epithelial and mesenchymal phenotype liver cancer cell lines. EMT was analyzed with migration/invasion assays. TISC characteristics were analyzed with tumor-sphere self-renewal and chemotherapy resistance assays. In vivo tumor assay was performed to investigate the role of Snail1 in tumor initiation.
TGFβ induced EMT in epithelial cells through the up-regulation of Snail1 in Smad-dependent signaling. Mesenchymal liver cancer post-EMT demonstrates TISC characteristics such as tumor-sphere formation but are not resistant to cytotoxic therapy. The inhibition of Snail1 in mesenchymal cells results in decreased Nanog promoter luciferase activity and loss of self-renewal characteristics in vitro. These changes confirm the direct role of Snail1 in some TISC traits. In vivo, the down-regulation of Snail1 reduced tumor growth but was not sufficient to eliminate tumor initiation. In summary, TGFβ induces EMT and TISC characteristics through Snail1 and Nanog up-regulation. In mesenchymal cells post-EMT, Snail1 directly regulates Nanog expression, and loss of Snail1 regulates tumor growth without affecting tumor initiation.
PMCID: PMC3189192  PMID: 21929801

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