Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a crucial process in tumorigenesis since tumor cells attain fibroblast-like features enabling them to invade to surrounding tissue. Two transcription factors, TWIST and SNAI1, are fundamental in regulating EMT.
Immunohistochemistry was used to study the expression of TWIST and SNAI1 in 109 pharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas.
Tumors with intense stromal staining of TWIST relapsed more frequently (p = 0.04). Tumors with both positive TWIST and SNAI1 immunoreactivity in the stroma were at least Stage II (p = 0.05) and located more often in hypopharynx (p = 0.035). Tumors with negative immunostaining of TWIST and SNAI1 in the stromal compartment were smaller (T1-2) (p = 0.008), less advanced (SI-II) (p = 0.031) and located more often in the oropharynx (p = 0.007). Patients with negative SNAI1 and TWIST immunostaining in tumor stroma had a better 5-year disease-specific and overall survival (p = 0.037 and p = 0.014 respectively).
TWIST and SNAI1 expression in stromal cells is associated with clinical and histopathological characteristics that indicate progressive disease. Negative expression of these EMT-promoting transcription factors predicts a better outcome.
Pharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma; Stromal cells; TWIST; SNAI1; Prognosis; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
The epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a de-differentiation process that has been implicated in metastasis and the generation of cancer initiating cells (CICs) in solid tumors. To examine EMT in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), we utilized a three dimensional (3D) cell culture system in which cells were co-stimulated with tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF) and transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ). NSCLC spheroid cultures display elevated expression of EMT master-switch transcription factors, TWIST1, SNAI1/Snail1, SNAI2/Slug and ZEB2/Sip1, and are highly invasive. Mesenchymal NSCLC cultures show CIC characteristics, displaying elevated expression of transcription factors KLF4, SOX2, POU5F1/Oct4, MYCN, and KIT. As a result, these putative CIC display a cancer “stem-like” phenotype by forming lung metastases under limiting cell dilution. The pleiotropic transcription factor, NF-κB, has been implicated in EMT and metastasis. Thus, we set out to develop a NSCLC model to further characterize the role of NF-κB activation in the development of CICs. Here, we demonstrate that induction of EMT in 3D cultures results in constitutive NF-κB activity. Furthermore, inhibition of NF-κB resulted in the loss of TWIST1, SNAI2, and ZEB2 induction, and a failure of cells to invade and metastasize. Our work indicates that NF-κB is required for NSCLC metastasis, in part, by transcriptionally upregulating master-switch transcription factors required for EMT.
Head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) are a heterogeneous group of tumors with variable presentation and clinical behavior. Despite improvements in surgical and radiation therapy techniques, the 5-year survival rate has not improved significantly over the past decades. Thus, there is an urgent need to identify novel markers that may allow for the development of personalized therapeutic approaches. In the present study we evaluated the prognostic role of the expression of genes related to the induction of epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT). To this aim, a consecutive series of 69 HNSCC were analyzed for the expression of TWIST1, TWIST2, SNAI1, SNAI2, E-Cadherin, N-Cadherin and Vimentin.
TWIST1, TWIST2, SNAI1 and SNAI2 were significantly overexpressed in HNSCC, with TWIST2, SNAI1 and SNAI2 being more markedly increased in tumors compared to normal mucosae. The expression of TWIST1 and SNAI2 was associated with upregulation of mesenchymal markers, but failed to correlate with pathological parameters or clinical behaviour. In contrast, we found that upregulation of TWIST2, which was independent of the activation of a mesenchymal differentiation program, correlated with poor differentiation grade (p=0.016) and shorter survival (p=0.025), and identifies a subset of node-positive oral cavity/pharynx cancer patients with very poor prognosis (p<0.001).
Overall our study suggests that the assessment of TWIST2 expression might help to stratify HNSCC patients for risk of disease progression, pointing to TWIST2 as a potential prognostic marker.
TWIST1; TWIST2; SNAI1; SNAI2; EMT; HNSCC
Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) is involved in normal developmental cellular
processes, but it may also be co-opted by a subset of cancer cells, to enable them to invade and
form metastases at distant sites. Several gene transcription factors regulate EMT, including Snail1,
Snail2, Zeb1, Zeb2, and Twist; ongoing studies continue to identify and elucidate other drivers.
Specific micro ribonucleic acids (RNAs) have also been found to regulate EMT, including the
microRNA-200 (miR-200) family, which targets Zeb1/Zeb2. Cancer “stem cells”
– with the ability to self-renew and to regenerate all the cell types within the tumor
– have been found to express EMT markers, further implicating both cancer stem cells and EMT
with metastasis. Microenvironmental cues, including transforming growth factor-β, can direct
EMT tumor metastasis, such as by regulating miR-200 expression. In human tumors, EMT markers and
regulators may be expressed in a subset of tumor cells, such as in cells at the invasive front or
tumor–microenvironment interface, though certain subtypes of cancer can show widespread
mesenchymal-like features. In terms of therapeutic targeting of EMT in patients, potential areas of
exploration could include targeting the cancer stem cell subpopulation, as well as microRNA-based
therapeutics that reintroduce miR-200. This review will examine evidence for a role of EMT in
invasion and metastasis, with the focus being on studies in lung and breast cancers. We also carry
out analyses of publicly-available gene expression profiling datasets in order to show how
EMT-associated genes appear coordinately expressed across human tumor specimens.
EMT; epithelial; mesenchymal transition; tumor microenvironment; miR-200; cancer stem cells
The E-box binding zinc finger transcription factors Slug and ZEB1 are important repressors of E-cadherin, contributing to epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in primary epithelial cancers. Activator or repressor status of EMT transcription factors defines consequences for tumorigenesis. We show that changes in expression levels of Slug in melanoma cell lines lead to concomitant alterations of ZEB1 expression. Electrophoretic mobility shift, luciferase reporter and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays identified Slug as a direct transcriptional activator at E-boxes of the ZEB1 promoter. Transcriptional activation of ZEB1 was demonstrated to be specific for Slug, since EMT regulators Snail and Twist failed to influence ZEB1 expression. Slug and ZEB1 cooperatively repressed E-cadherin expression resulting in decreased adhesion to human keratinocytes, but promoted migration of melanoma cells. Our results show that the transcriptional activity of ZEB1 is increased by Slug, suggesting a hierarchical organized expression of EMT transcription factors through directed activation, triggering an EMT-like process in melanoma.
SNAI1 can initiate epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), leading to loss of epithelial characteristics and, in cancer, to invasion and metastasis. We hypothesized that SNAI1 reactivation occurs in oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) where it might also be associated with focal adhesion kinase (FAK) expression and p63 loss.
Immunohistochemistry was performed on 46 tumors and 26 corresponding lymph node metastases. Full tissue sections were examined to account for rare and focal expression. Clinical outcome data were collected and analyzed.
SNAI1-positivity (nuclear, ≥ 5% tumor cells) was observed in 10 tumors and 5 metastases (n = 12 patients). Individual SNAI1(+) tumor cells were seen in primary tumors of 30 patients. High level SNAI1 expression (>10% tumor cells) was rare, but significantly associated with poor outcome. Two cases displayed a sarcomatoid component as part of the primary tumor with SNAI1(+)/FAK(+)/E-cadherin(-)/p63(-) phenotype, but disparate phenotypes in corresponding metastases. All cases had variable SNAI1(+) stroma. A mesenchymal-like immunoprofile in primary tumors characterized by E-cadherin loss (n = 29, 63%) or high cytoplasmic FAK expression (n = 10, 22%) was associated with N(+) status and tumor recurrence/new primary, respectively.
SNAI1 is expressed, although at low levels, in a substantial proportion of OSCC. High levels of SNAI1 may herald a poor prognosis and circumscribed SNAI1 expression can indicate the presence of a sarcomatoid component. Absence of p63 in this context does not exclude squamous tumor origin. Additional EMT inducers may contribute to a mesenchymal-like phenotype and OSCC progression.
To metastasize, carcinoma cells must attenuate cell-cell adhesion to disseminate into distant organs. A group of transcription factors, including Twist1, Snail1, Snail2, ZEB1, and ZEB2, have been shown to induce Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT), thus promoting tumor dissemination. However, it is unknown whether these transcription factors function independently or coordinately to activate the EMT program. Here we report that direct induction of Snail2 is essential for Twist1 to induce EMT. Snail2 knockdown completely blocks the ability of Twist1 to suppress E-cadherin transcription. Twist1 binds to an evolutionarily conserved E-box on the proximate Snail2 promoter to induce its transcription. Snail2 induction is essential for Twist1-induced cell invasion and distant metastasis in mice. In human breast tumors, the expression of Twist1 and Snail2 is highly correlated. Together, our results show that Twist1 needs to induce Snail2 to suppress the epithelial branch of the EMT program and that Twist1 and Snail2 act together to promote EMT and tumor metastasis.
tumor metastasis; E-cadherin; Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition; Snail2; Twist1
Snail1 and ZEB1 are transcriptional repressors that drive tumor initiation and metastasis in animal models. Snail1 and ZEB1 are frequently coexpressed in tumor cell lines, suggesting that these factors may cooperate to promote tumor progression. However, coexpression of these transcriptional repressors in primary human cancer specimens has not been investigated. Previous studies assessed expression in primary breast cancers of Snail1 messenger RNA, which does not reflect Snail1 activity because Snail1 is subject to posttranslational modifications that inhibit its nuclear localization/activity. In the current study, using breast tumor cell lines of known Snail1 and ZEB1 expression status, we developed immunohistochemistry protocols for detecting nuclear Snail1 and nuclear ZEB1 proteins. Using these protocols, we assessed nuclear Snail1 and nuclear ZEB1 expressions in primary human breast cancers of varying subtypes (n = 78). Nuclear Snail1 and estrogen receptor α expression were inversely associated in primary breast cancers, and nuclear Snail1 was expressed in approximately 80% of triple-negative breast cancers (lacking estrogen receptor α, progesterone receptor, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 overexpression). In contrast, nuclear ZEB1 was expressed at a significantly lower frequency in these breast cancers. Notably, nuclear Snail1 protein was detected in 45% of ductal carcinoma in situ specimens (n = 29), raising the important possibility that nuclear Snail1 expression in early stage breast lesions may predict future development of invasive breast cancer. Collectively, our studies demonstrate frequent expression of nuclear Snail1, but not nuclear ZEB1, in invasive, triple-negative breast cancers as well as in intraductal carcinomas.
Snail1; ZEB1; Breast cancer; Estrogen receptor; Ductal carcinoma in situ
By transactivating expression of miRNAs that repress expression of the ZEB1 and ZEB2 transcription factors, p53 inhibits the epithelial–mesenchymal transition.
p53 suppresses tumor progression and metastasis. Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a key process in tumor progression and metastasis. The transcription factors ZEB1 and ZEB2 promote EMT. Here, we show that p53 suppresses EMT by repressing expression of ZEB1 and ZEB2. By profiling 92 primary hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) and 9 HCC cell lines, we found that p53 up-regulates microRNAs (miRNAs), including miR-200 and miR-192 family members. The miR-200 family members transactivated by p53 then repress ZEB1/2 expression. p53-regulated miR-192 family members also repress ZEB2 expression. Inhibition or overexpression of the miRNAs affects p53-regulated EMT by altering ZEB1 and ZEB2 expression. Our findings indicate that p53 can regulate EMT, and that p53-regulated miRNAs are critical mediators of p53-regulated EMT.
ZEB2 has been suggested to mediate EMT and disease aggressiveness in several types of human cancers. However, the expression patterns of ZEB2 in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and its effect on prognosis of HCC patients treated with hepatectomy are unclear.
In this study, the methods of tissue microarray and immunohistochemistry (IHC) were utilized to investigate ZEB2 expression in HCC and peritumoral liver tissue (PLT). Receiver operating characteristic (ROC), spearman's rank correlation, Kaplan-Meier plots and Cox proportional hazards regression model were used to analyze the data. Up-regulated expression of cytoplasmic/nuclear ZEB2 protein was observed in the majority of PLTs, when compared to HCCs. Further analysis showed that overexpression of cytoplasmic ZEB2 in HCCs was inversely correlated with AFP level, tumor size and differentiation (P<0.05). Also, overexpression of cytoplasmic ZEB2 in PLTs correlated with lower AFP level (P<0.05). In univariate survival analysis, a significant association between overexpression of cytoplasmic ZEB2 by HCCs/PLTs and longer patients' survival was found (P<0.05). Importantly, cytoplasmic ZEB2 expression in PLTs was evaluated as an independent prognostic factor in multivariate analysis (P<0.05). Consequently, a new clinicopathologic prognostic model with cytoplasmic ZEB2 expression (including HCCs and PLTs) was constructed. The model could significantly stratify risk (low, intermediate and high) for overall survival (P = 0.002).
Our findings provide a basis for the concept that cytoplasmic ZEB2 expressed by PLTs can predict the postoperative survival of patients with HCC. The combined cytoplasmic ZEB2 prognostic model may become a useful tool for identifying patients with different clinical outcomes.
Epithelial–mesenchymal transition is an important mechanism of epithelial tumor progression, local invasion and metastasis. The E-cadherin (CDH1) repressor SLUG (SNAI2) and the basic helix–loop–helix transcription factor TWIST1 inhibit CDH1 expression in poorly differentiated malignancies as inducers of epithelial– mesenchymal transition. Epithelial–mesenchymal transition has been implicated in progression from well to poorly differentiated/anaplastic thyroid carcinoma but the expression of SNAI2 and TWIST1 proteins and their phenotypic association in human thyroid cancers has not been extensively studied. We examined the expression of SNAI2, TWIST1 and CDH1 by immunohistochemistry in a panel of well-differentiated and anaplastic thyroid cancers and by qRT-PCR in thyroid cell lines. Ten normal thyroids, 33 follicular adenomas, 56 papillary thyroid carcinomas including 28 follicular variants, 27 follicular carcinomas and 10 anaplastic thyroid carcinomas were assembled on a tissue microarray and immunostained for SNAI2, TWIST1 and CDH1. Most (8/10) anaplastic thyroid carcinomas demonstrated strong nuclear immunoreactivity for SNAI2 with associated absence of CDH1 in 6/8 cases (75%). TWIST1 was expressed in 5/10 anaplastic thyroid carcinomas with absence of CDH1 in 3/5 (60%) cases. These findings were confirmed in whole sections of all anaplastic thyroid carcinomas and in a separate validation set of 10 additional anaplastic thyroid carcinomas. All normal thyroids, follicular adenomas, papillary and follicular thyroid carcinomas were negative for SNAI2 and TWIST1 (P<0.0001) and all showed strong diffuse immunoreactivity for CDH1 (P=0.026). Expression of SNAI2, TWIST1 and CDH1 mRNA varied in a normal thyroid, papillary carcinoma and two anaplastic thyroid carcinoma cell lines tested, but the highest levels of CDH1 mRNA were detected in the normal thyroid cell line while the anaplastic thyroid carcinoma cell line demonstrated the highest levels of SNAI2 and TWIST1 mRNA. Our findings support the role of epithelial–mesenchymal transition in the development of anaplastic thyroid carcinoma.
anaplastic thyroid carcinoma; CDH1; SNAI2; thyroid carcinoma; thyroid cell lines; TWIST1
The majority of human cancer deaths are caused by metastasis. The metastatic dissemination is initiated by the breakdown of epithelial cell homeostasis. During this phenomenon, referred to as epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), cells change their genetic and trancriptomic program leading to phenotypic and functional alterations. The challenge of understanding this dynamic process resides in unraveling regulatory networks involving master transcription factors (e.g. SNAI1/2, ZEB1/2 and TWIST1) and microRNAs. Here we investigated microRNAs regulated by SNAI1 and their potential role in the regulatory networks underlying epithelial plasticity.
By a large-scale analysis on epithelial plasticity, we highlighted miR-203 and its molecular link with SNAI1 and the miR-200 family, key regulators of epithelial homeostasis. During SNAI1-induced EMT in MCF7 breast cancer cells, miR-203 and miR-200 family members were repressed in a timely correlated manner. Importantly, miR-203 repressed endogenous SNAI1, forming a double negative miR203/SNAI1 feedback loop. We integrated this novel miR203/SNAI1 with the known miR200/ZEB feedback loops to construct an a priori EMT core network. Dynamic simulations revealed stable epithelial and mesenchymal states, and underscored the crucial role of the miR203/SNAI1 feedback loop in state transitions underlying epithelial plasticity.
By combining computational biology and experimental approaches, we propose a novel EMT core network integrating two fundamental negative feedback loops, miR203/SNAI1 and miR200/ZEB. Altogether our analysis implies that this novel EMT core network could function as a switch controlling epithelial cell plasticity during differentiation and cancer progression.
Down-regulation of E-cadherin (CDH1) and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) are considered critical events for invasion and metastasis of colorectal carcinoma. Here we tested whether the important regulators of E-cadherin expression SNAI1 and TWIST1 are already detectable in human colorectal adenomas.
RNA was extracted from a set of randomly selected formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded (FFPE) colorectal adenomas (n = 41) and normal colon mucosa (n = 10). Subsequently mRNA expression of CDH1, CDH2, SNAI1 and TWIST1 was analysed by quantitative RT-PCR analysis. CDH1 as well as SNAI1 protein expression were assessed by immunohistochemistry (IHC).
SNAI1 mRNA was expressed in 78% (n = 32/41), TWIST1 mRNA in 41% (n = 17/41) and CDH2 mRNA in 41% (n = 17/41) of the colorectal adenoma tissue, while normal colon mucosa was negative for these transcription factors. We found a significant correlation between reduced CDH1 and the presence of SNAI1 mRNA expression and for combined SNAI1 and TWIST1 mRNA expression, respectively. A correlation between CDH2 mRNA expression and reduced CDH1 expression was not observed. We confirmed the relationship between SNAI1 expression and reduced E-cadherin expression on the protein level via IHC.
Our data show that SNAI1 and Twist1 are already expressed in benign precursor lesions of colorectal cancer and that SNAI1 expression was significantly correlated with lower expression of CDH1. Whether these findings reflect true EMT and/or are a sign of a more aggressive biology need to be investigated in further studies.
Grainyhead genes are involved in wound healing and developmental neural tube closure. In light of the high degree of similarity between the epithelial-mesenchymal transitions (EMT) occurring in wound healing processes and the cancer stem cell-like compartment of tumors, including TGF-β-dependence, we investigated the role of the Grainyhead gene, Grainyhead-Like-2 (GRHL2) in oncogenic EMT. GRHL2 was down-regulated specifically in the claudin-low subclass breast tumors and in basal-B subclass breast cancer cell lines. GRHL2 suppressed TGF-β-induced, Twist-induced or spontaneous EMT, enhanced anoikis-sensitivity, and suppressed mammosphere generation in mammary epithelial cells. These effects were mediated in part by suppression of ZEB1 expression via direct repression of the ZEB1 promoter. GRHL2 also inhibited Smad-mediated transcription and it upregulated mir200b/c as well as the TGF-β receptor antagonist, BMP2. Lastly, ectopic expression of GRHL2 in MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells triggered a mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition and restored sensitivity to anoikis. Taken together, our findings define a major role for GRHL2 in the suppression of oncogenic EMT in breast cancer cells.
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; EMT; Grainyhead; anoikis; ZEB1; TGF-β; breast cancer
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is frequently associated with fibrosis and a prominent inflammatory infiltrate in the desmoplastic stroma. Moreover, in PDAC, an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is observed. To explore a possible connection between the infiltrating cells, particularly the polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMN) and the tumor cell transition, biopsies of patients with PDAC (n = 115) were analysed with regard to PMN infiltration and nuclear expression of β-catenin and of ZEB1, well-established indicators of EMT. In biopsies with a dense PMN infiltrate, a nuclear accumulation of β-catenin and of ZEB1 was observed. To address the question whether PMN could induce EMT, they were isolated from healthy donors and were cocultivated with pancreatic tumor cells grown as monolayers. Rapid dyshesion of the tumor cells was seen, most likely due to an elastase-mediated degradation of E-cadherin. In parallel, the transcription factor TWIST was upregulated, β-catenin translocated into the nucleus, ZEB1 appeared in the nucleus, and keratins were downregulated. EMT was also induced when the tumor cells were grown under conditions preventing attachment to the culture plates. Here, also in the absence of elastase, E-cadherin was downmodulated. PMN as well as prevention of adhesion induced EMT also in liver cancer cell line. In conclusion, PMN via elastase induce EMT in vitro, most likely due to the loss of cell-to-cell contact. Because in pancreatic cancers the transition to a mesenchymal phenotype coincides with the PMN infiltrate, a contribution of the inflammatory response to the induction of EMT and—by implication—to tumor progression is possible.
The members of the Snail superfamily of zinc-finger transcription factors, including Snai1 and Snai2, are involved in essential biological processes, such as epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). While Snai1 has been investigated in a number of cancers, our knowledge on Snai2 and its role(s) in squamous cell carcinoma of oral tongue (SCCOT) is limited. In this study, we confirmed the previous observation that over-expression of Snai2 is a frequent event in SCCOT. We further demonstrated that Snai2 over-expression is associated with lymph node metastasis in two independent SCCOT patient cohorts (total n = 129). Statistical analysis revealed that Snai2 over-expression was correlated with reduced overall survival. Furthermore, over-expression of Snai2 was correlated with reduced E-cadherin expression and enhanced Vimentin expression, suggesting a functional role of Snai2 in EMT. These observations were confirmed in vitro, in which knockdown of Snai2 induced a switch from a mesenchymal-like morphology to an epithelial-like morphology in SCCOT cell lines, and suppressed the cell invasion and migration. In contrast, ectopic transfection of Snai2 led to enhanced cell invasion and migration. Furthermore, Snai2 knockdown attenuated TGFβ1-induced EMT in SCCOT cell lines. Taken together, these data suggest that Snai2 plays major roles in EMT and the progression of SCCOT, and may serve as a therapeutic target for patients at risk of metastasis.
epithelial menschymal transition; E-cadherin; Snai2; squmous cell carcinoma
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is the first step required for breast cancer to initiate metastasis. However, the potential of drugs to block and reverse the EMT process are not well explored. In the present study, we investigated the inhibitory effect of beta-elemene (ELE), an active component of a natural plant-derived anti-neoplastic agent in an established EMT model mediated by transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-β1). We found that ELE (40 µg/ml ) blocked the TGF-β1-induced phenotypic transition in the human breast cancer cell line MCF-7. ELE was able to inhibit TGF-β1-mediated upregulation of mRNA and protein expression of nuclear transcription factors (SNAI1, SNAI2, TWIST and SIP1), potentially through decreasing the expression and phosphorylation of Smad3, a central protein mediating the TGF-β1 signalling pathway. These findings suggest a potential therapeutic benefit of ELE in treating basal-like breast cancer.
The epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a developmental process enabling epithelial cells to gain a migratory mesenchymal phenotype. In cancer, this process contributes to metastases; however the regulatory signals and mechanistic details are not fully elucidated. Here, we sought to identify the subset of genes regulated in lung cancer by ZEB1, an E-box transcriptional repressor known to induce EMT. Using an Affymetrix-based expression database of 38 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines, we identified 324 genes that correlated negatively with ZEB1 and 142 that were positively correlated. A mesenchymal gene pattern (low E-cadherin, high Vimentin or N-cadherin) was significantly associated with ZEB1 and ZEB2, but not with Snail, Slug, Twist1 or Twist2. Among 8 genes selected for validation, 7 were confirmed to correlate with ZEB1 by quantitative real-time RT-PCR in a series of 22 NSCLC cell lines, either negatively (CDS1, EpCAM, ESRP1, ESRP2, ST14) or positively (FGFR1, Vimentin). In addition, overexpression or knockdown of ZEB1 led to corresponding changes in gene expression, demonstrating that these genes are also regulated by ZEB1, either directly or indirectly. Of note, the combined knockdown of ZEB1 and ZEB2 led to apparent synergistic responses in gene expression. Furthermore, these responses were not restricted to artificial settings, since most genes were similarly regulated during a physiologic induction of EMT by TGF-β plus EGF. Finally, the absence of ST14 (matriptase) was linked to ZEB1 positivity in lung cancer tissue microarrays, implying that the regulation observed in vitro applies to the human disease. In summary, this study identifies a new set of ZEB-regulated genes in human lung cancer cells and supports the hypothesis that ZEB1 and ZEB2 are key regulators of the EMT process in this disease.
lung cancer; ZEB1; ZEB2; EMT; ST14; NSCLC
Zinc finger E-box binding (ZEB) proteins ZEB1 and ZEB2 are transcription factors essential in transforming growth factor (TGF)-β-mediated senescence, epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) and cancer stem cell function. ZEBs are negatively regulated by members of the miR-200 microRNA family, but precisely how tumor cells expressing ZEBs emerge during invasive growth remains unknown. Here we report that NOTCH3-mediated signaling prevents expansion of a unique subset of ZEB-expressing cells. ZEB expression was associated with the lack of cellular capability of undergoing NOTCH3-mediated squamous differentiation in human esophageal cells. Genetic inhibition of the Notch-mediated transcriptional activity by dominant-negative Mastermind-like1 (DNMAML1) prevented squamous differentiation and induction of Notch target genes including NOTCH3. Moreover, DNMAML1 enriched EMT competent cells exhibited robust upregulation of ZEBs, downregulation of the miR-200 family, and enhanced anchorage independent growth and tumor formation in nude mice. RNA interference (RNAi) experiments suggested the involvement of ZEBs in anchorage independent colony formation, invasion and TGF-β-mediated EMT. Invasive growth and impaired squamous differentiation was recapitulated upon Notch inhibition by DNMAML1 in organotypic 3D culture, a form of human tissue engineering. Together, our findings indicate that NOTCH3 is a key factor limiting the expansion of ZEB-expressing cells, providing novel mechanistic insights into the role of Notch signaling in the cell fate regulation and disease progression of squamous esophageal cancers.
Notch; EMT; squamous cell differentiation; ZEB1; miR-200
We found that among four master epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT)-inducing genes (ZEB1, SIP1, Snail, and Slug) ZEB1expression was most significantly correlated with the mesenchymal phenotype (high Vimentin and low E-cadherin expression) in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines and tumors. Furthermore, ZEB1 knockdown with RNA interference in three NSCLC cell lines with high ZEB1 expression suppressed to varying degrees mass culture growth and liquid colony formation but in all cases dramatically suppressed soft agar colony formation. In addition, ZEB1 knockdown induced apoptosis in one of the three lines, indicating that the growth inhibitory effects of ZEB1 knockdown occurs in part through the activation of the apoptosis pathway. These results suggest that inhibiting ZEB1 function may be an attractive target for NSCLC therapeutic development.
Lung cancer; Epidermal growth factor receptor; Anchorage-independent growth; EMT; MicroRNA; RNA interference
The zinc finger E-box binding protein 1 (ZEB1) transcription factor belongs to a two-member family of zinc-finger homeodomain proteins involved in physiological and pathological events mostly relating to cell migration and epithelial to mesenchymal transitions (EMTs). ZEB1 (also known as δEF1, zfhx1a, TCF8, and Zfhep) plays a key role in regulating such diverse processes as T-cell development, skeletal patterning, reproduction, and cancer cell metastasis. However, the factors that regulate its expression and consequently the signaling pathways in which ZEB1 participates are poorly defined. Because it is induced by estrogen and progesterone and is high in prostate cancer, we investigated whether tcf8, which encodes ZEB1, is regulated by androgen. Data herein demonstrate that tcf8 is induced by dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the human PC-3/AR prostate cancer cell line and that this induction is mediated by two androgen response elements (AREs). These results demonstrate that ZEB1 is an intermediary in androgen signaling pathways.
Epithelial cancer cells are likely to undergo epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) prior to entering the peripheral circulation. By undergoing EMT, circulating tumor cells (CTCs) lose epithelial markers and may escape detection by conventional methods. Therefore, we conducted a pilot study to investigate mRNA transcripts of EMT-inducing transcription factors (TFs) in tumor cells from the peripheral blood (PB) of primary breast cancer (PBC) patients.
Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were isolated from 52 stages I–III PBC patients and 30 healthy donors (HD) and sequentially depleted of EpCAM+ cells and CD45+ leukocytes, henceforth referred to as CD45−. The expression levels of EMT-inducing TFs (TWIST1, SNAIL1, SLUG, ZEB1, and FOXC2) in the CD45− cells were determined using qRT-PCR. The highest level of expression by the CD45− cell fraction of HD was used as “cut off” to determine if samples from PBC patients overexpressed any EMT-inducing TFs. In total, 15.4% of PBC patients overexpressed at least one of the EMT-inducing TF transcripts. Overexpression of any EMT-inducing TF transcripts was more likely to be detected in PBC patients who received neoadjuvant therapies (NAT) than patients who received no NAT (P = 0.003). Concurrently, CTCs were detected in 7 out of 38 (18.4%) patients by CellSearch® and 15 out of 42 (35.7%) patients by AdnaTest™. There was no association between the presence of CTCs measured by CellSearch® or AdnaTest™.
In summary, our results demonstrate that CTCs with EMT phenotype may occur in the peripheral circulation of PBC patients and NAT is unable to eliminate CTCs undergoing EMT.
circulating tumor cells; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; primary breast cancer; neoadjuvant therapy
Metastatic cancer is extremely difficult to treat, and the presence of metastases greatly reduces a cancer patient’s likelihood of long-term survival. The ZEB1 transcriptional repressor promotes metastasis through downregulation of microRNAs (miRs) that are strong inducers of epithelial differentiation and inhibitors of stem cell factors. Given that each miR can target multiple genes with diverse functions, we posited that the prometastatic network controlled by ZEB1 extends beyond these processes. We tested this hypothesis using a mouse model of human lung adenocarcinoma metastasis driven by ZEB1, human lung carcinoma cells, and human breast carcinoma cells. Transcriptional profiling studies revealed that ZEB1 controls the expression of numerous oncogenic and tumor-suppressive miRs, including miR-34a. Ectopic expression of miR-34a decreased tumor cell invasion and metastasis, inhibited the formation of promigratory cytoskeletal structures, suppressed activation of the RHO GTPase family, and regulated a gene expression signature enriched in cytoskeletal functions and predictive of outcome in human lung adenocarcinomas. We identified several miR-34a target genes, including Arhgap1, which encodes a RHO GTPase activating protein that was required for tumor cell invasion. These findings demonstrate that ZEB1 drives prometastatic actin cytoskeletal remodeling by downregulating miR-34a expression and provide a compelling rationale to develop miR-34a as a therapeutic agent in lung cancer patients.
The Snail gene family encodes zinc finger-containing transcriptional repressor proteins. Three members of the Snail gene family have been described in mammals, encoded by the Snai1, Snai2, and Snai3 genes. The function of the Snai1 and Snai2 genes have been studied extensively during both vertebrate embryogenesis and tumor progression and metastasis, and play critically important roles during these processes. However, little is known about the function of the Snai3 gene and protein. We describe here generation and analysis of Snai3 conditional and null mutant mice. We also generated an EYFP-tagged Snai3 null allele that accurately reflects endogenous Snai3 gene expression, with the highest levels of expression detected in thymus and skeletal muscle. Snai3 null mutant homozygous mice are viable and fertile, and exhibit no obvious phenotypic defects. These results demonstrate that Snai3 gene function is not essential for embryogenesis in mice.
Tumor cells at the tumor margin lose epithelial properties and acquire features of mesenchymal cells, a process called epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Recently, features of EMT were shown to be linked to cells with tumor-founding capability, so-called cancer stem cells (CSCs). Inducers of the EMT include several transcription factors, such as Snail (SNAI1) and Slug (SNAI2), as well as the secreted transforming growth factor (TGFß). In the present study, we found that EMT induction in MCF10A cells by stably expressing SNAI1 contributed to drug resistance and acquisition of stem/progenitor-like character as shown by increased cell population for surface marker CD44+/CD24− and mammosphere forming capacity. Using a microarray approach, we demonstrate that SNAI1 overexpression results in a dramatic change in signaling pathways involved in the regulation of cell death and stem cell maintenance. We showed that NF-κB/MAPK signaling pathways are highly activated in MCF10A-SNAI1 cells by IL1ß stimulation, leading to the robust induction in IL6 and IL8. Furthermore, MCF10A-SNAI1 cells showed enhanced TCF/ß-catenin activity responding to the exogenous Wnt3a treatment. However, EMT-induced stem/progenitor cell activation process is tightly regulated in non-transformed MCF10A cells, as WNT5A and TGFB2 are strongly upregulated in MCF10A-SNAI1 cells antagonizing canonical Wnt pathway. In summary, our data provide new molecular findings how EMT contributes to the enhanced chemoresistance and the acquisition of stem/progenitor-like character by regulating signaling pathways.