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1.  Nuclear Snail1 and nuclear ZEB1 protein expression in invasive and intraductal human breast carcinomas 
Human Pathology  2011;42(8):1125-1131.
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.
PMCID: PMC3315281  PMID: 21315410
Snail1; ZEB1; Breast cancer; Estrogen receptor; Ductal carcinoma in situ
2.  Twist and snai1 expression in pharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma stroma is related to cancer progression 
BMC Cancer  2011;11:350.
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.
PMCID: PMC3173446  PMID: 21834956
Pharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma; Stromal cells; TWIST; SNAI1; Prognosis; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
3.  Epithelial-mesenchymal transition and tumor suppression are controlled by a reciprocal feedback loop between ZEB1 and Grainyhead-like-2 
Cancer research  2013;73(20):6299-6309.
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in carcinoma cells enhances malignant progression by promoting invasion and survival. EMT is induced by microenvironmental factors including TGF-β and Wnt agonists, and by the E-box-binding transcription factors Twist, Snail and ZEB. Grainyhead-like-2 (GRHL2), a member of the mammalian Grainyhead family of wound healing regulatory transcription factors, suppresses EMT and restores sensitivity to anoikis by repressing ZEB1 expression and inhibiting TGF-β signaling. In this study, we elucidate the functional relationship between GRHL2 and ZEB1 in EMT/MET and tumor biology. At least three homeodomain proteins, Six1, LBX1, and HoxA5, transactivated the ZEB1 promoter, in the case of Six1, through direct protein-promoter interaction. GRHL2 altered the Six1-DNA complex, inhibiting this transactivation. Correspondingly, GRHL2 expression prevented tumor initiation in xenograft assays, sensitized breast cancer cells to paclitaxel and suppressed the emergence of CD44highCD24low cells (defining the cancer stem cell phenotype in the cell type studied). GRHL2 was down-regulated in recurrent mouse tumors that had evolved to an oncogene-independent, EMT-like state, supporting a role for GRHL2 down-regulation in this phenotypic transition, modeling disease recurrence. The combination of TGF-β and Wnt activation repressed GRHL2 expression by direct interaction of ZEB1 with the GRHL2 promoter, inducing EMT. Together, our observations indicate that a reciprocal feedback loop between GRHL2 and ZEB1 controls epithelial vs. mesenchymal phenotypes and EMT-driven tumor progression.
PMCID: PMC3806457  PMID: 23943797
Grainyhead-like-2; ZEB1; epithelial-mesenchymal transition
4.  A Novel Network Integrating a miRNA-203/SNAI1 Feedback Loop which Regulates Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35440.
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.
PMCID: PMC3325969  PMID: 22514743
5.  Direct repression of MYB by ZEB1 suppresses proliferation and epithelial gene expression during epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition of breast cancer cells 
Breast Cancer Research : BCR  2013;15(6):R113.
Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) promotes cell migration and is important in metastasis. Cellular proliferation is often downregulated during EMT, and the reverse transition (MET) in metastases appears to be required for restoration of proliferation in secondary tumors. We studied the interplay between EMT and proliferation control by MYB in breast cancer cells.
MYB, ZEB1, and CDH1 expression levels were manipulated by lentiviral small-hairpin RNA (shRNA)-mediated knockdown/overexpression, and verified with Western blotting, immunocytochemistry, and qRT-PCR. Proliferation was assessed with bromodeoxyuridine pulse labeling and flow cytometry, and sulforhodamine B assays. EMT was induced with epidermal growth factor for 9 days or by exposure to hypoxia (1% oxygen) for up to 5 days, and assessed with qRT-PCR, cell morphology, and colony morphology. Protein expression in human breast cancers was assessed with immunohistochemistry. ZEB1-MYB promoter binding and repression were determined with Chromatin Immunoprecipitation Assay and a luciferase reporter assay, respectively. Student paired t tests, Mann–Whitney, and repeated measures two-way ANOVA tests determined statistical significance (P < 0.05).
Parental PMC42-ET cells displayed higher expression of ZEB1 and lower expression of MYB than did the PMC42-LA epithelial variant. Knockdown of ZEB1 in PMC42-ET and MDA-MB-231 cells caused increased expression of MYB and a transition to a more epithelial phenotype, which in PMC42-ET cells was coupled with increased proliferation. Indeed, we observed an inverse relation between MYB and ZEB1 expression in two in vitro EMT cell models, in matched human breast tumors and lymph node metastases, and in human breast cancer cell lines. Knockdown of MYB in PMC42-LA cells (MYBsh-LA) led to morphologic changes and protein expression consistent with an EMT. ZEB1 expression was raised in MYBsh-LA cells and significantly repressed in MYB-overexpressing MDA-MB-231 cells, which also showed reduced random migration and a shift from mesenchymal to epithelial colony morphology in two dimensional monolayer cultures. Finally, we detected binding of ZEB1 to MYB promoter in PMC42-ET cells, and ZEB1 overexpression repressed MYB promoter activity.
This work identifies ZEB1 as a transcriptional repressor of MYB and suggests a reciprocal MYB-ZEB1 repressive relation, providing a mechanism through which proliferation and the epithelial phenotype may be coordinately modulated in breast cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC3979034  PMID: 24283570
6.  An autocrine TGF-β/ZEB/miR-200 signaling network regulates establishment and maintenance of epithelial-mesenchymal transition 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2011;22(10):1686-1698.
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition is a form of cellular plasticity that is critical for embryonic development and tumor metastasis. This study shows that a signaling network involving autocrine TGF-β signaling, ZEB transcription factors, and the miR-200 family regulates interconversion between epithelial and mesenchymal states.
 Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a form of cellular plasticity that is critical for embryonic development and tumor metastasis. A double-negative feedback loop involving the miR-200 family and ZEB (zinc finger E-box-binding homeobox) transcription factors has been postulated to control the balance between epithelial and mesenchymal states. Here we demonstrate using the epithelial Madin Darby canine kidney cell line model that, although manipulation of the ZEB/miR-200 balance is able to repeatedly switch cells between epithelial and mesenchymal states, the induction and maintenance of a stable mesenchymal phenotype requires the establishment of autocrine transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) signaling to drive sustained ZEB expression. Furthermore, we show that prolonged autocrine TGF-β signaling induced reversible DNA methylation of the miR-200 loci with corresponding changes in miR-200 levels. Collectively, these findings demonstrate the existence of an autocrine TGF-β/ZEB/miR-200 signaling network that regulates plasticity between epithelial and mesenchymal states. We find a strong correlation between ZEBs and TGF-β and negative correlations between miR-200 and TGF-β and between miR-200 and ZEBs, in invasive ductal carcinomas, consistent with an autocrine TGF-β/ZEB/miR-200 signaling network being active in breast cancers.
PMCID: PMC3093321  PMID: 21411626
7.  Clinical implication of ZEB-1 and E-cadherin expression in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) 
BMC Cancer  2013;13:572.
While recent research has shown that expression of ZEB-1 in a variety of tumors has a crucial impact on patient survival, there is little information regarding ZEB-1 expression in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). This study investigated the co-expression of ZEB-1 and E-cadherin in HCC by immunohistochemistry and evaluated its association with clinical factors, including patient prognosis.
A total of 108 patients with primary HCC treated by curative hepatectomy were enrolled. ZEB-1 expression was immunohistochemically categorized as positive if at least 1% cancer cells exhibited nuclear staining. E-cadherin expression was divided into preserved and reduced expression groups and correlations between ZEB-1 and E-cadherin expression and clinical factors were then evaluated.
With respect to ZEB-1 expression, 23 patients were classified into the positive group and 85 into the negative group. Reduced E-cadherin expression was seen in 44 patients and preserved expression in the remaining 64 patients. ZEB-1 positivity was significantly associated with reduced expression of E-cadherin (p = 0.027). Moreover, significant associations were found between ZEB-1 expression and venous invasion and TNM stage. ZEB-1 positivity was associated with poorer prognosis (p = 0.025). Reduced E-cadherin expression was significantly associated with intrahepatic metastasis and poorer prognosis (p = 0.047). In particular, patients with both ZEB-1 positivity and reduced E-cadherin expression had a poorer prognosis (p = 0.005). Regardless of E-cadherin status, ZEB-1 was not a significant prognostic factor by multivariate analysis. There was no statistical difference in overall survival when E-cadherin expression was reduced in the ZEB-1 positive group (p = 0.24).
Positive ZEB-1 expression and loss of E-cadherin expression are correlated with poor prognosis in HCC patients and malignancy of ZEB-1 positive tumors involves EMT.
PMCID: PMC4235016  PMID: 24304617
Hepatocellular carcinoma; Hepatic resection; ZEB-1; E-cadherin; EMT
8.  Snail2 is an essential mediator of Twist1-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition and metastasis 
Cancer research  2011;71(1):245-254.
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.
PMCID: PMC3025803  PMID: 21199805
tumor metastasis; E-cadherin; Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition; Snail2; Twist1
9.  Expression of epithelial-mesenchymal transition regulators SNAI2 and TWIST1 in thyroid carcinomas 
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.
PMCID: PMC3559085  PMID: 22899291
anaplastic thyroid carcinoma; CDH1; SNAI2; thyroid carcinoma; thyroid cell lines; TWIST1
10.  ZEB1 limits adenoviral infectability by transcriptionally repressing the Coxsackie virus and Adenovirus Receptor 
Molecular Cancer  2011;10:91.
We have previously reported that RAS-MEK (Cancer Res. 2003 May 1;63(9):2088-95) and TGF-β (Cancer Res. 2006 Feb 1;66(3):1648-57) signaling negatively regulate coxsackie virus and adenovirus receptor (CAR) cell-surface expression and adenovirus uptake. In the case of TGF-β, down-regulation of CAR occurred in context of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process associated with transcriptional repression of E-cadherin by, for instance, the E2 box-binding factors Snail, Slug, SIP1 or ZEB1. While EMT is crucial in embryonic development, it has been proposed to contribute to the formation of invasive and metastatic carcinomas by reducing cell-cell contacts and increasing cell migration.
Here, we show that ZEB1 represses CAR expression in both PANC-1 (pancreatic) and MDA-MB-231 (breast) human cancer cells. We demonstrate that ZEB1 physically associates with at least one of two closely spaced and conserved E2 boxes within the minimal CAR promoter here defined as genomic region -291 to -1 relative to the translational start ATG. In agreement with ZEB1's established role as a negative regulator of the epithelial phenotype, silencing its expression in MDA-MB-231 cells induced a partial Mesenchymal-to-Epithelial Transition (MET) characterized by increased levels of E-cadherin and CAR, and decreased expression of fibronectin. Conversely, knockdown of ZEB1 in PANC-1 cells antagonized both the TGF-β-induced down-regulation of E-cadherin and CAR and the reduction of adenovirus uptake. Interestingly, even though ZEB1 clearly contributes to the TGF-β-induced mesenchymal phenotype of PANC-1 cells, TGF-β did not seem to affect ZEB1's protein levels or subcellular localization. These findings suggest that TGF-β may inhibit CAR expression by regulating factor(s) that cooperate with ZEB1 to repress the CAR promoter, rather than by regulating ZEB1 expression levels. In addition to the negative E2 box-mediated regulation the minimal CAR promoter is positively regulated through conserved ETS and CRE elements.
This report provides evidence that inhibition of ZEB1 may improve adenovirus uptake of cancer cells that have undergone EMT and for which ZEB1 is necessary to maintain the mesenchymal phenotype. Targeting of ZEB1 may reverse some aspects of EMT including the down-regulation of CAR.
PMCID: PMC3164624  PMID: 21791114
ZEB1; EMT; MET; TGF-β; adenovirus; cancer
11.  NF-κB Regulates Mesenchymal Transition for the Induction of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Initiating Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68597.
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.
PMCID: PMC3728367  PMID: 23935876
12.  p53 regulates epithelial–mesenchymal transition through microRNAs targeting ZEB1 and ZEB2 
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.
PMCID: PMC3092351  PMID: 21518799
13.  Transcriptional Activation of ZEB1 by Slug Leads to Cooperative Regulation of the EMT like Phenotype in Melanoma 
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.
PMCID: PMC3182526  PMID: 21593765
14.  Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma and Pancreatic Tumor Cell Lines: The Role of Neutrophils and Neutrophil-Derived Elastase 
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.
PMCID: PMC3514849  PMID: 23227088
15.  ZEB1-Responsive Genes in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer 
Cancer Letters  2010;300(1):66-78.
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.
PMCID: PMC3337721  PMID: 20980099
lung cancer; ZEB1; ZEB2; EMT; ST14; NSCLC
16.  The role of epithelial–mesenchymal transition programming in invasion and metastasis: a clinical perspective 
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.
PMCID: PMC3754282  PMID: 23986650
EMT; epithelial; mesenchymal transition; tumor microenvironment; miR-200; cancer stem cells
17.  TWIST1 promotes invasion through mesenchymal change in human glioblastoma 
Molecular Cancer  2010;9:194.
Tumor cell invasion into adjacent normal brain is a mesenchymal feature of GBM and a major factor contributing to their dismal outcomes. Therefore, better understandings of mechanisms that promote mesenchymal change in GBM are of great clinical importance to address invasion. We previously showed that the bHLH transcription factor TWIST1 which orchestrates carcinoma metastasis through an epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) is upregulated in GBM and promotes invasion of the SF767 GBM cell line in vitro.
To further define TWIST1 functions in GBM we tested the impact of TWIST1 over-expression on invasion in vivo and its impact on gene expression. We found that TWIST1 significantly increased SNB19 and T98G cell line invasion in orthotopic xenotransplants and increased expression of genes in functional categories associated with adhesion, extracellular matrix proteins, cell motility and locomotion, cell migration and actin cytoskeleton organization. Consistent with this TWIST1 reduced cell aggregation, promoted actin cytoskeletal re-organization and enhanced migration and adhesion to fibronectin substrates. Individual genes upregulated by TWIST1 known to promote EMT and/or GBM invasion included SNAI2, MMP2, HGF, FAP and FN1. Distinct from carcinoma EMT, TWIST1 did not generate an E- to N-cadherin "switch" in GBM cell lines. The clinical relevance of putative TWIST target genes SNAI2 and fibroblast activation protein alpha (FAP) identified in vitro was confirmed by their highly correlated expression with TWIST1 in 39 human tumors. The potential therapeutic importance of inhibiting TWIST1 was also shown through a decrease in cell invasion in vitro and growth of GBM stem cells.
Together these studies demonstrated that TWIST1 enhances GBM invasion in concert with mesenchymal change not involving the canonical cadherin switch of carcinoma EMT. Given the recent recognition that mesenchymal change in GBMs is associated with increased malignancy, these findings support the potential therapeutic importance of strategies to subvert TWIST1-mediated mesenchymal change.
PMCID: PMC2920263  PMID: 20646316
18.  MiR-145 Regulates Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition of Breast Cancer Cells by Targeting Oct4 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45965.
MiR-145 could regulate tumor growth, apoptosis, migration, and invasion. In our present study, we investigated its role in epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Expression of miR-145 was decreased in breast tumor tissues at T3&4 stages in comparison with those at T1&2. Over-expression of miR-145 mimics enhanced protein levels of E-cadherin and dampened those of α-SMA and Fibronectin, indicative of its inhibitory role in EMT occurrence. Mechanistic studies showed that miR-145 mimics inhibited Oct4 expression and miR-145 inhibitor enhanced it. Over-expression of Oct4 reversed miR-145-regulated expression of EMT markers, suggesting that Oct4 mediated the inhibitory effects of miR-145. MiR-145 could inhibite the expression of Snail, ZEB1, and ZEB2, while over-expression of Oct4 rescued the effects. Furthermore, Oct-4 induced over-expression of transcription factor Snail, ZEB1 and ZEB2 was mediated by β-catenin. Expression of Slug and Twist were not altered by miR-145/Oct4. Taken together, our results have revealed a novel role of miR-145 on EMT. It inhibits EMT by blocking the expression of Oct4, and downstream transcriptional factors, Snail, ZEB1 and ZEB2.
PMCID: PMC3458807  PMID: 23049906
19.  Mesenchymal gene program–expressing ovarian cancer spheroids exhibit enhanced mesothelial clearance 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(6):2611-2625.
Metastatic dissemination of ovarian tumors involves the invasion of tumor cell clusters into the mesothelial cell lining of peritoneal cavity organs; however, the tumor-specific factors that allow ovarian cancer cells to spread are unclear. We used an in vitro assay that models the initial step of ovarian cancer metastasis, clearance of the mesothelial cell layer, to examine the clearance ability of a large panel of both established and primary ovarian tumor cells. Comparison of the gene and protein expression profiles of clearance-competent and clearance-incompetent cells revealed that mesenchymal genes are enriched in tumor populations that display strong clearance activity, while epithelial genes are enriched in those with weak or undetectable activity. Overexpression of transcription factors SNAI1, TWIST1, and ZEB1, which regulate the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), promoted mesothelial clearance in cell lines with weak activity, while knockdown of the EMT-regulatory transcription factors TWIST1 and ZEB1 attenuated mesothelial clearance in ovarian cancer cell lines with strong activity. These findings provide important insights into the mechanisms associated with metastatic progression of ovarian cancer and suggest that inhibiting pathways that drive mesenchymal programs may suppress tumor cell invasion of peritoneal tissues.
PMCID: PMC4038562  PMID: 24762435
20.  Role of microRNA in epithelial to mesenchymal transition and metastasis and clinical perspectives 
The microRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small, 20–22 nucleotides in length, endogenously expressed noncoding RNAs that regulate multiple targets posttranscriptionally. Interestingly, miRNAs have emerged as regulators of most physiological and pathological processes, including metastatic tumor progression, in part by controlling a reversible process called epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). The activation of EMT increases the migratory and invasive properties fundamental for tumor cell spread while activation of the reverse mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition is required for metastasis outgrowth. The EMT triggering leads to the activation of a core of transcription factors (EMT-TFs) – SNAIL1/SNAIL2, bHLH (E47, E2-2, and TWIST1/TWIST2), and ZEB1/ZEB2 – that act as E-cadherin repressors and, ultimately, coordinate EMT. Recent evidence indicates that several miRNAs regulate the expression of EMT-TFs or EMT-activating signaling pathways. Interestingly, some miRNAs and EMT-TFs form tightly interconnected negative feedback loops that control epithelial cell plasticity, providing self-reinforcing signals and robustness to maintain the epithelial or mesenchymal cell status. Among the most significant feedback loops, we focus on the ZEB/miR-200 and the SNAIL1/miR-34 networks that hold a clear impact in the regulation of the epithelial-mesenchymal state. Recent insights into the p53 modulation of the EMT-TF/miRNA loops and epigenetic regulatory mechanisms in the context of metastasis dissemination will also be discussed. Understanding the regulation of EMT by miRNAs opens new avenues for the diagnosis and prognosis of tumors and identifies potential therapeutic targets that might help to negatively impact on metastasis dissemination and increasing patient survival.
PMCID: PMC4008290  PMID: 24812525
EMT; MET; microRNAs; cancer; metastasis
21.  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
22.  Tissue Transglutaminase Constitutively Activates HIF-1α Promoter and Nuclear Factor-κB via a Non-Canonical Pathway 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49321.
Constitutive activation of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) has been linked with carcinogenesis and cancer progression, including metastasis, chemoresistance, and radiation resistance. However, the molecular mechanisms that result in constitutive activation of NF-κB are poorly understood. Here we show that chronic expression of the pro-inflammatory protein tissue transglutaminase (TG2) reprograms the transcription regulatory network in epithelial cells via constitutive activation of NF-κB. TG2-induced NF-κB binds the functional NF-κB binding site in hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1α) promoter and results in its increased expression at transcription and protein levels even under normoxic conditions. TG2/NF-κB-induced HIF-1 was deemed essential for increased expression of some transcription repressors, like Zeb1, Zeb2, Snail, and Twist. Unlike tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFα), TG2 did not require IκB kinase (IKK) for NF-κB activation. Our data suggest that TG2 binds with IκBα and results in its rapid degradation via a non-proteasomal pathway. Importantly, the catalytically inactive (C277S) mutant form of TG2 was as effective as was wild-type TG2 in activating NF-κB and inducing HIF-1 expression. We also found that TG2 interacted with p65/RelA protein, both in the cytosolic and the nuclear compartment. The TG2/p65(NF-κB) complex binds to the HIF-1 promoter and induced its transcriptional regulation. Inhibition of TG2 or p65/RelA also inhibited the HIF-1α expression and attenuated Zeb1, Zeb2, and Twist expression. To our knowledge, these findings show for the first time a direct link between TG2, NF-κB, and HIF-1α, demonstrating TG2's important role in cancer progression.
PMCID: PMC3501523  PMID: 23185316
23.  Phosphorylation of Serine 68 of Twist1 by MAPKs Stabilizes Twist1 Protein and Promotes Breast Cancer Cell Invasiveness 
Cancer research  2011;71(11):3980-3990.
Twist1, a bHLH transcription factor, promotes breast tumor cell epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), invasiveness and metastasis. However, the mechanisms responsible for regulating Twist1 stability are unknown in these cells. We identified the serine 68 (S68) as a major phosphorylation site of Twist1 by mass spectrometry and with specific antibodies. This S68 is phosphorylated by p38, JNK and ERK1/2 in vitro, and its phosphorylation levels positively correlate with Twist1 protein levels in HEK293 and breast cancer cells. Prevention of S68 phosphorylation by an alanine (A) mutation (S68A) dramatically accelerates Twist1 ubiquitination and degradation. Furthermore, activation of MAPKs by an active Ras protein or TGF-β treatment significantly increases S68 phosphorylation and Twist1 protein levels without altering Twist1 mRNA expression, while blocking of MAPK activities by either specific inhibitors or dominant negative inhibitory mutants effectively reduces the levels of both induced and un-induced S68 phosphorylation and Twist protein. Accordingly, the mammary epithelial cells expressing Twist1 exhibit much higher degrees of EMT and invasiveness upon stimulation with TGF-β or the active Ras as well as taxol resistance compared to same cells expressing the S68A-Twist1 mutant. Importantly, the levels of S68 phosphorylation in the invasive human breast ductal carcinomas positively correlate with the levels of Twist1 protein and JNK activity and are significantly higher in progesterone receptor-negative and HER2-positive breast cancers. These findings suggest that activation of MAPKs by tyrosine kinase receptors and Ras signaling pathways may substantially promote breast tumor cell EMT and metastasis via phoshorylation and stabilization of Twist1.
PMCID: PMC3107354  PMID: 21502402
24.  EMT Inducers Catalyze Malignant Transformation of Mammary Epithelial Cells and Drive Tumorigenesis towards Claudin-Low Tumors in Transgenic Mice 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(5):e1002723.
The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is an embryonic transdifferentiation process consisting of conversion of polarized epithelial cells to motile mesenchymal ones. EMT–inducing transcription factors are aberrantly expressed in multiple tumor types and are known to favor the metastatic dissemination process. Supporting oncogenic activity within primary lesions, the TWIST and ZEB proteins can prevent cells from undergoing oncogene-induced senescence and apoptosis by abolishing both p53- and RB-dependent pathways. Here we show that they also downregulate PP2A phosphatase activity and efficiently cooperate with an oncogenic version of H-RAS in malignant transformation of human mammary epithelial cells. Thus, by down-regulating crucial tumor suppressor functions, EMT inducers make cells particularly prone to malignant conversion. Importantly, by analyzing transformed cells generated in vitro and by characterizing novel transgenic mouse models, we further demonstrate that cooperation between an EMT inducer and an active form of RAS is sufficient to trigger transformation of mammary epithelial cells into malignant cells exhibiting all the characteristic features of claudin-low tumors, including low expression of tight and adherens junction genes, EMT traits, and stem cell–like characteristics. Claudin-low tumors are believed to be the most primitive breast malignancies, having arisen through transformation of an early epithelial precursor with inherent stemness properties and metaplastic features. Challenging this prevailing view, we propose that these aggressive tumors arise from cells committed to luminal differentiation, through a process driven by EMT inducers and combining malignant transformation and transdifferentiation.
Author Summary
The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is essential to germ layer formation and cell migration in the early vertebrate embryo. EMT is aberrantly reactivated under pathological conditions, including fibrotic disease and cancer progression. In the latter process, EMT is known to promote invasion and metastatic dissemination of tumor cells. EMT is orchestrated by a variety of embryonic transcription factors called EMT inducers. Among these, the TWIST and ZEB proteins are known to be frequently reactivated during tumor development. We here report in vitro and in vivo observations demonstrating that activation of these factors fosters cell transformation and primary tumor growth by alleviating key oncosuppressive mechanisms, thereby minimizing the number of events required for acquisition of malignant properties. In a model of breast cancer, cooperation between a single EMT inducer and a single mitogenic oncoprotein is sufficient to transform mammary epithelial cells into malignant cells and to drive the development of aggressive and undifferentiated tumors. Overall, these data underscore the oncogenic role of embryonic transcription factors in initiating the development of poor-prognosis neoplasms by promoting both cell transformation and dedifferentiation.
PMCID: PMC3359981  PMID: 22654675
25.  Epithelial–mesenchymal transition markers expressed in circulating tumor cells in hepatocellular carcinoma patients with different stages of disease 
Cell Death & Disease  2013;4(10):e831-.
The presence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in peripheral blood is associated with metastasis and prognosis in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients. The epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) has a pivotal role in tumor invasion and dissemination. To identify more sensitive biomarkers for evaluating metastasis and prognosis, we investigated the expression of EMT markers, including vimentin, twist, ZEB1, ZEB2, snail, slug and E-cadherin in CTCs, primary HCC tumors and adjacent non-tumoral liver tissues. After isolating viable CTCs from the peripheral blood of HCC patients using asialoglycoprotein receptors (ASGPRs), the CTCs were identified with immunofluorescence staining. CTCs were detected in the peripheral blood obtained from 46 of 60 (76.7%) HCC patients. Triple-immunofluorescence staining showed that twist and vimentin expression could be detected in CTCs obtained from 39 (84.8%) and 37 (80.4%) of the 46 patients, respectively. The expression of both twist and vimentin in CTCs was significantly correlated with portal vein tumor thrombus. Coexpression of twist and vimentin in CTCs could be detected in 32 (69.6%) of the 46 patients and was highly correlated with portal vein tumor thrombus, TNM classification and tumor size. Quantitative fluorescence western blot analysis revealed that the expression levels of E-cadherin, vimentin and twist in HCC tumors were significantly associated with the positivity of isolated CTCs (P=0.013, P=0.012, P=0.009, respectively). However, there was no significant difference in ZEB1, ZEB2, snail and slug expression levels in CTCs, primary HCC tumors and adjacent non-tumoral liver tissues across samples with regard to the clinicopathological parameters. Our results demonstrate that the EMT has a role in promoting the blood-borne dissemination of primary HCC cells, and the twist and vimentin expression levels in CTCs could serve as promising biomarkers for evaluating metastasis and prognosis in HCC patients.
PMCID: PMC3824657  PMID: 24091674
circulating tumor cells; epithelial–mesenchymal transition; hepatocellular carcinoma; metastasis; biomarkers

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