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1.  EGFR and mutant p53 expand esophageal cellular subpopulation capable of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition through ZEB transcription factors 
Cancer research  2010;70(10):4174-4184.
Transforming growth factor (TGF)-β is a potent inducer of epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). However, it remains elusive as to which molecular mechanisms determine the cellular capacity to undergo EMT in response to TGF-β. We have found that both epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) overexpression and mutant p53 tumor suppressor genes contribute to enrichment of an EMT-competent cellular subpopulation amongst telomerase-immortalized human esophageal epithelial cells during malignant transformation. EGFR overexpression triggers oncogene-induced senescence, accompanied by induction of cyclin dependent kinase inhibitors p15INK4B, p16INK4A and p21. Interestingly, a subpopulation of cells emerges by negating senescence without loss of EGFR overexpression. Such cell populations express increased levels of zinc finger E-box binding (ZEB) transcription factors ZEB1 and ZEB2, and undergo EMT upon TGF-β stimulation. Enrichment of EMT-competent cells was more evident in the presence of p53 mutation, which diminished EGFR-induced senescence. RNA interference directed against ZEB resulted in induction of p15INK4B and p16INK4A, reactivating the EGFR-dependent senescence program. Importantly, TGF-β-mediated EMT did not take place when cellular senescence programs were activated by either ZEB knockdown or activation of wild-type p53 function. Thus, senescence checkpoint functions activated by EGFR and p53 may be evaded through the induction of ZEB, thereby allowing expansion of an EMT-competent unique cellular subpopulation, providing novel mechanistic insights into the role of ZEB in esophageal carcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3007622  PMID: 20424117
EGFR; EMT; senescence; ZEB1; ZEB2
2.  MUC1-C oncoprotein activates the ZEB1/miR-200c regulatory loop and epithelial–mesenchymal transition 
Oncogene  2013;33(13):1680-1689.
The epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) is activated in cancer cells by ZEB1, a member of the zinc finger/homeodomain family of transcriptional repressors. The mucin 1 (MUC1) heterodimeric protein is aberrantly overexpressed in human carcinoma cells. The present studies in breast cancer cells demonstrate that the oncogenic MUC1-C subunit induces expression of ZEB1 by a NF-κB (nuclear factor kappa B) p65-dependent mechanism. MUC1-C occupies the ZEB1 promoter with NF-κB p65 and thereby promotes ZEB1 transcription. In turn, ZEB1 associates with MUC1-C and the ZEB1/MUC1-C complex contributes to the transcriptional suppression of miR-200c, an inducer of epithelial differentiation. The co-ordinate upregulation of ZEB1 and suppression of miR-200c has been linked to the induction of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). In concert with the effects of MUC1-C on ZEB1 and miR-200c, we show that MUC1-C induces EMT and cellular invasion by a ZEB1-mediated mechanism. These findings indicate that (i) MUC1-C activates ZEB1 and suppresses miR-200c with the induction of EMT and (ii) targeting MUC1-C could be an effective approach for the treatment of breast and possibly other types of cancers that develop EMT properties.
PMCID: PMC3783575  PMID: 23584475
MUC1-C; ZEB1; miR-200c; breast cancer; EMT
3.  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
4.  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
5.  NOTCH1 and NOTCH3 coordinate esophageal squamous differentiation through a CSL-dependent transcriptional network 
Gastroenterology  2010;139(6):2113-2123.
Background & Aims
The Notch receptor family regulates cell fate through cell-cell communication. CSL (CBF-1/RBP-jκ, Su(H), Lag-1) drives canonical Notch-mediated gene transcription during cell lineage specification, differentiation and proliferation in the hematopoietic system, the intestine, the pancreas and the skin. However, the functional roles of Notch in esophageal squamous epithelial biology remain unknown.
Normal esophageal keratinocytes were stimulated with calcium chloride to induce terminal differentiation. The squamous epithelia were reconstituted in organotypic three-dimensional culture, a form of human tissue engineering. Notch was inhibited in culture with a γ-secretase inhibitor or dominant negative mastermind-like1 (DNMAML1). The roles of Notch receptors were evaluated by in vitro gain-of-function and loss-of-function experiments. Additionally, DNMAML1 was targeted to the mouse esophagus by cytokeratin K14 promoter-driven Cre (K14Cre) recombination of Lox-STOP-Lox-DNMAML1. Notch-regulated gene expression was determined by reporter transfection, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays, quantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reactions (RT-PCR), Western blotting, immunofluorescence and immunohistochemistry.
NOTCH1 (N1) was activated at the onset of squamous differentiation in the esophagus. Intracellular domain of N1 (ICN1) directly activated NOTCH3 (N3) transcription, inducing HES5 and early differentiation markers such as involucrin (IVL) and cytokeratin CK13 in a CSL-dependent fashion. N3 enhanced ICN1 activity and was required for squamous differentiation. Loss of Notch signaling in K14Cre;DNMAML1 mice perturbed esophageal squamous differentiation and resulted in N3 loss and basal cell hyperplasia.
Notch signaling is important for esophageal epithelial homeostasis. In particular, the crosstalk of N3 with N1 during differentiation provides novel, mechanistic insights into Notch signaling and squamous epithelial biology.
PMCID: PMC2997138  PMID: 20801121
NOTCH1; NOTCH3; esophageal epithelium; squamous differentiation
6.  An Rb1-dependent amplification loop between Ets1 and Zeb1 is evident in thymocyte differentiation and invasive lung adenocarcinoma 
Ras pathway mutation leads to induction and Erk phosphorylation and activation of the Ets1 transcription factor. Ets1 in turn induces cyclin E and cyclin dependent kinase (cdk) 2 to drive cell cycle progression. Ets1 also induces expression of the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) transcription factor Zeb1, and thereby links Ras mutation to EMT, which is thought to drive tumor invasion. Ras pathway mutations are detected by the Rb1 tumor suppression pathway, and mutation or inactivation of the Rb1 pathway is required for EMT.
We examined linkage between Rb1, Ets1 and Zeb1. We found that an Rb1-E2F complex binds the Ets1 promoter and constitutively limits Ets1 expression. But, Rb1 repression of Zeb1 provides the major impact of Rb1 on Ets1 expression. We link Rb1 repression of Zeb1 to induction of miR-200 family members, which in turn target Ets1 mRNA. These findings suggest that Ets1 and Zeb1 comprise an amplification loop that is dependent upon miR-200 and regulated by Rb1. Thus, induction of Ets1 when the Rb1 pathway is lost may contribute to deregulated cell cycle progression through Ets1 induction of cyclin E and cdk2. Consistent with such an amplification loop, we correlate expression of Ets1 and Zeb1 in mouse and human lung adenocarcinoma. In addition we demonstrate that Ets1 expression in thymocytes is also dependent upon Zeb1.
Taken together, our results provide evidence of an Rb1-dependent Ets1-Zeb1 amplification loop in thymocyte differentiation and tumor invasion.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12867-015-0038-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4364651  PMID: 25880398
Ets1; Zeb1; miR-200; Thymocyte differentiation; Lung adenocarcinoma
7.  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
8.  The miR-200 regulates PDGF-D mediated epithelial-mesenchymal transition, adhesion and invasion of prostate cancer cells 
Stem Cells (Dayton, Ohio)  2009;27(8):1712-1721.
MicroRNAs have been implicated in tumor progression. Recent studies have shown that miR-200 family regulates Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) by targeting zinc-finger E-box binding homeobox 1 (ZEB1) and ZEB2. Emerging evidence from our laboratory and others suggest that the processes of EMT can be triggered by various growth factors such as Transforming Growth Factor-beta (TGF-β) and Platelet-Derived Growth Factor-D (PDGF-D). Moreover, we have recently reported that over-expression of PDGF-D in prostate cancer cells (PC3 PDGF-D cells) leads to the acquisition of EMT phenotype, and this model offers an opportunity for investigating the molecular interplay between PDGF-D signaling and EMT. Here we report, for the first time, significant down-regulation of miR-200 family in PC3 PDGF-D cells as well as in PC3 cells exposed to purified active PDGF-D protein, resulting in the up-regulation of ZEB1, ZEB2 and snail2 expression. Interestingly, re-expression of miR-200b in PC3 PDGF-D cells led to the reversal of EMT phenotype, which was associated with the down-regulation of ZEB1, ZEB2 and snail2 expression and these results were consistent with increased gene expressions of epithelial markers. Moreover, transfection of PC3 PDGF-D cells with miR-200b inhibited cell migration and invasion with concomitant repression of cell adhesion to culture surface and cell detachment. From these results, we conclude that PDGF-D induced acquisition of EMT phenotype of PC3 cells is in part due to repression of miR-200 and that any novel strategies by which miR-200 could be up-regulated would become a promising approach for the treatment of invasive prostate cancer.
PMCID: PMC3400149  PMID: 19544444
Platelet-Derived Growth Factor-D (PDGF-D); Epithelial–Mesenchymal Transition (EMT); miR-200; zinc-finger E-box binding homeobox 1 (ZEB1); snail2
9.  Zeb1 Regulates E-cadherin and Epcam (Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule) Expression to Control Cell Behavior in Early Zebrafish Development* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2013;288(26):18643-18659.
Background: Regulation of cell adhesion is important for embryonic development and to prevent cancer metastasis.
Results: Zeb1 controls cell adhesion in zebrafish embryos and human cancer cell lines through transcriptional repression of E-cadherin, Epcam, and miR-200s.
Conclusion: Zeb1 fine-tunes E-cadherin- and Epcam-mediated cell adhesion to control cell behavior during gastrulation.
Significance: Conserved cell adhesion regulation mechanisms are crucial for understanding development and cancer invasion.
The ZEB1 transcription factor is best known as an inducer of epithelial-mesenchymal transitions (EMT) in cancer metastasis, acting through transcriptional repression of CDH1 (encoding E-cadherin) and the EMT-suppressing microRNA-200s (miR-200s). Here we analyze roles of the ZEB1 zebrafish orthologs, Zeb1a and Zeb1b, and of miR-200s in control of cell adhesion and morphogenesis during gastrulation and segmentation stages. Loss and gain of function analyses revealed that Zeb1 represses cdh1 expression to fine-tune adhesiveness of migrating deep blastodermal cells. Furthermore, Zeb1 acts as a repressor of epcam in the deep cells of the blastoderm and may contribute to control of epithelial integrity of enveloping layer cells, the outermost cells of the blastoderm. We found a similar ZEB1-dependent repression of EPCAM expression in human pancreatic and breast cancer cell lines, mediated through direct binding of ZEB1 to the EPCAM promoter. Thus, Zeb1 proteins employ several evolutionary conserved mechanisms to regulate cell-cell adhesion during development and cancer.
PMCID: PMC3696638  PMID: 23667256
Cell Adhesion; Development; E-cadherin; EMT; Transcription/Developmental Factors; Gastrulation
10.  Notch-1 induces Epithelial-mesenchymal transition consistent with cancer stem cell phenotype in pancreatic cancer cells 
Cancer letters  2011;307(1):26-36.
Activation of Notch-1 is known to be associated with the development and progression of human malignancies including pancreatic cancer. Emerging evidence suggest that the acquisition of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) phenotype and induction of cancer stem cell (CSC) or cancer stem-like cell phenotype are interrelated and contributes to tumor recurrence and drug resistance. The molecular mechanism(s) by which Notch-1 contributes to the acquisition of EMT phenotype and CSC self-renewal capacity has not been fully elucidated. Here we show that forced over-expression of Notch-1 leads to increased cell growth, clonogenicity, migration and invasion of AsPC-1 cells. Moreover, over-expression of Notch-1 led to the induction of EMT phenotype by activation of mesenchymal cell markers such as ZEB1, CD44, EpCAM, and Hes 1. Here we also report, for the first time, that over-expression of Notch-1 leads to increased expression of miR-21, and decreased expression of miR-200b, miR-200c, let-7a, let-7b, and let-7c. Re-expression of miR-200b led to decreased expression of ZEB1, and vimentin, and increased expression of E-cadherin. Over-expression of Notch-1 also increased the formation of pancreatospheres consistent with expression of CSC surface markers CD44 and EpCAM. Finally, we found that genistein, a known natural anti-tumor agent inhibited cell growth, clonogenicity, migration, invasion, EMT phenotype, formation of pancreatospheres and expression of CD44 and EpCAM. These results suggest that the activation of Notch-1 signaling contributes to the acquisition of EMT phenotype, which is in part mediated through the regulation of miR-200b and CSC self-renewal capacity, and these processes could be attenuated by genistein treatment.
PMCID: PMC3104092  PMID: 21463919
Notch-1; EMT phenotype; miRNAs; CSC-self renewal; genistein
11.  ZEB1 sensitizes lung adenocarcinoma to metastasis suppression by PI3K antagonism 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(6):2696-2708.
Epithelial tumor cells that have undergone epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) are typically prone to metastasis and drug resistance and contribute to a poor clinical outcome. The transcription factor ZEB1 is a known driver of EMT, and mediators of ZEB1 represent potential therapeutic targets for metastasis suppression. Here, we have shown that phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase–targeted (PI3K-targeted) therapy suppresses metastasis in a mouse model of Kras/Tp53-mutant lung adenocarcinoma that develops metastatic disease due to high expression of ZEB1. In lung adenocarcinoma cells from Kras/Tp53-mutant animals and human lung cancer cell lines, ZEB1 activated PI3K by derepressing miR-200 targets, including amphiregulin (AREG), betacellulin (BTC), and the transcription factor GATA6, which stimulated an EGFR/ERBB2 autocrine loop. Additionally, ZEB1-dependent derepression of the miR-200 and miR-183 target friend of GATA 2 (FOG2) enhanced GATA3-induced expression of the p110α catalytic subunit of PI3K. Knockdown of FOG2, p110α, and RHEB ameliorated invasive and metastatic propensities of tumor cells. Surprisingly, FOG2 was not required for mesenchymal differentiation, suggesting that mesenchymal differentiation and invasion are distinct and separable processes. Together, these results indicate that ZEB1 sensitizes lung adenocarcinoma cells to metastasis suppression by PI3K-targeted therapy and suggest that treatments to selectively modify the metastatic behavior of mesenchymal tumor cells are feasible and may be of clinical value.
PMCID: PMC4038569  PMID: 24762440
12.  Ubiquitin ligase Cbl-b represses IGF-I-induced epithelial mesenchymal transition via ZEB2 and microRNA-200c regulation in gastric cancer cells 
Molecular Cancer  2014;13:136.
Insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) can induce epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) in many epithelial tumors; however, the molecular mechanism by which this occurs is not clearly understood. Additionally, little is known about the involvement of IGF-I in gastric cancer.
Two gastric cancer cell lines were treated with IGF-I to induce EMT and levels of transcription factor ZEB2 and microRNA-200c (miR-200c) were measured. Cells were treated with Akt/ERK inhibitors to investigate the role of these pathways in IGF-I-mediated EMT. Transfection of shRNA plasmids was used to silence the ubiquitin ligase Cbl-b to assess its involvement in this process. The relationship between IGF-IR and Cbl-b expression, and the effect of IGF-IR and Cbl-b on metastasis were analyzed in primary gastric adenocarcinoma patients.
IGF-I-induced gastric cancer cell EMT was accompanied by ZEB2 up-regulation. Furthermore, both Akt/ERK inhibitors and knockdown of Akt/ERK gene reversed IGF-I-induced ZEB2 up-regulation and EMT through up-regulation of miR-200c, suggesting the involvement of an Akt/ERK-miR-200c-ZEB2 axis in IGF-I-induced EMT. The ubiquitin ligase Cbl-b also ubiquitinated and degraded IGF-IR and inhibited the Akt/ERK-miR-200c-ZEB2 axis, leading to the repression of IGF-I-induced EMT. There was a significant negative correlation between the expression of IGF-IR and Cbl-b in gastric cancer patient tissues (r = -0.265, p < 0.05). More of patients with IGF-IR-positive expression and Cbl-b-negative expression were with lymph node metastasis (p < 0.001).
Together, these findings demonstrate that the ubiquitin ligase Cbl-b represses IGF-I-induced EMT, likely through targeting IGF-IR for degradation and further inhibiting the Akt/ERK-miR-200c-ZEB2 axis in gastric cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC4052283  PMID: 24885194
IGF-I; EMT; ZEB2; Cbl-b; microRNA-200c
13.  miR-429 inhibits cells growth and invasion and regulates EMT-related marker genes by targeting Onecut2 in colorectal carcinoma 
Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry  2014;390(1-2):19-30.
The 5-year survival rate for colorectal cancer is approximately 55 % because of its invasion and metastasis. The epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) is one of the well-defined processes during the invasion and distant metastasis of primary epithelial tumors. miR-429, a member of the miR-200 family of microRNAs, was previously shown to inhibit the expression of transcriptional repressors ZEB1/delta EF1 and SIP1/ZEB2, and regulate EMT. In this study, we showed that miR-429 was significantly downregulated in colorectal carcinoma (CRC) tissues and cell lines. We found that miR-429 inhibited the proliferation and growth of CRC cells in vitro and in vivo, suggesting that miR-429 could play a role in CRC tumorigenesis. We also showed that downregulation of miR-429 may contribute to carcinogenesis and the initiation of EMT of CRC by targeting Onecut2. Further researches indicated that miR-429 inhibited the cells migration and invasion and reversed TGF-β-induced EMT changes in SW620 and SW480 cells. miR-429 could reverse the change of EMT-related markers genes induced by TGF-β1, such as E-cadherin, CTNNA1, CTNNB1, TFN, CD44, MMP2, Vimentin, Slug, Snail, and ZEB2 by targeting Onecut2. Taken together, our data showed that transcript factor Onecut2 is involved in the EMT, migration and invasion of CRC cells; miR-429 inhibits the initiation of EMT and regulated expression of EMT-related markers by targeting Onecut2; and miR-429 or Onecut2 is the important therapy target for CRC.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11010-013-1950-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3972435  PMID: 24402783
miRNA; miR-429; Colorectal carcinoma; TGF-β1; Snail; ZEB2
14.  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
15.  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
16.  The ZEB1 pathway links glioblastoma initiation, invasion and chemoresistance 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2013;5(8):1196-1212.
Glioblastoma remains one of the most lethal types of cancer, and is the most common brain tumour in adults. In particular, tumour recurrence after surgical resection and radiation invariably occurs regardless of aggressive chemotherapy. Here, we provide evidence that the transcription factor ZEB1 (zinc finger E-box binding homeobox 1) exerts simultaneous influence over invasion, chemoresistance and tumourigenesis in glioblastoma. ZEB1 is preferentially expressed in invasive glioblastoma cells, where the ZEB1-miR-200 feedback loop interconnects these processes through the downstream effectors ROBO1, c-MYB and MGMT. Moreover, ZEB1 expression in glioblastoma patients is predictive of shorter survival and poor Temozolomide response. Our findings indicate that this regulator of epithelial-mesenchymal transition orchestrates key features of cancer stem cells in malignant glioma and identify ROBO1, OLIG2, CD133 and MGMT as novel targets of the ZEB1 pathway. Thus, ZEB1 is an important candidate molecule for glioblastoma recurrence, a marker of invasive tumour cells and a potential therapeutic target, along with its downstream effectors.
Glioblastoma have a poor prognosis, mainly due to infiltrating and therapy resistant cells leading to cancer recurrence. Here, tumor formation, invasion and resistance are not independent but intertwined processes regulated by the EMT activator ZEB1.
PMCID: PMC3944461  PMID: 23818228
brain; cancer stem cell; EMT; glioma; xenograft
17.  MiR-132 Suppresses the Migration and Invasion of Lung Cancer Cells via Targeting the EMT Regulator ZEB2 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91827.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small, non-coding RNAs which can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes in human cancers. Emerging evidence reveals that deregulation of miRNAs contributes to the human non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In the present study, we demonstrated that the expression levels of miR-132 were dramatically decreased in examined NSCLC cell lines and clinical NSCLC tissue samples. Then, we found that introduction of miR-132 significantly suppressed the migration and invasion of lung cancer cells in vitro, suggesting that miR-132 may be a novel tumor suppressor. Further studies indicated that the EMT-related transcription factor ZEB2 was one direct target genes of miR-132, evidenced by the direct binding of miR-132 with the 3′ untranslated region (3′ UTR) of ZEB2. Further, miR-132 could decrease the expression of ZEB2 at the levels of mRNA and protein. Notably, the EMT marker E-cadherin or vimentin, a downstream of ZEB2, was also down-regulated or up-regulated upon miR-132 treatment. Additionally, over-expressing or silencing ZEB2 was able to elevate or inhibit the migration and invasion of lung cancer cells, parallel to the effect of miR-132 on the lung cancer cells. Meanwhile, knockdown of ZEB2 reversed the enhanced migration and invasion mediated by anti-miR-132. These results indicate that miR-132 suppresses the migration and invasion of NSCLC cells through targeting ZEB2 involving the EMT process. Thus, our finding provides new insight into the mechanism of NSCLC progression. Therapeutically, miR-132 may serve as a potential target in the treatment of human lung cancer.
PMCID: PMC3953608  PMID: 24626466
18.  Transcription factors zeb1, twist and snai1 in breast carcinoma 
BMC Cancer  2011;11:73.
Epitheliomesenchymal transition (EMT) is the process where cancer cells attain fibroblastic features and are thus able to invade neighboring tissues. Transcriptional factors zeb1, snai1 and twist regulate EMT.
We used immunohistochemistry to investigate the expression of zeb1, twist and snai1 in tumor and stromal compartments by in a large set of breast carcinomas. The results were compared with estrogen and progesterone receptor status, HER2 amplification, grade, histology, TNM status and survival of the patients.
Nuclear expression for twist was seen in the epithelial tumor cell compartment in 3.6% and for snai1 in 3.1% of the cases while zeb1 was not detected at all in these areas. In contrast, the tumor stromal compartment showed nuclear zeb1 and twist expression in 75% and 52.4% of the cases, respectively. Although rare, nuclear expression of twist in the epithelial tumor cell compartment was associated with a poor outcome of the patients (p = 0.054 log rank, p = 0.013, Breslow, p = 0.025 Tarone-Ware). Expression of snai1, or expression of zeb1 or twist in the stromal compartment did not have any prognostic significance. Furthermore, none of these factors associated with the size of the tumors, nor with the presence of axillary or distant metastases. Expression of zeb1 and twist in the stromal compartment was positively associated with a positive estrogen or progesterone receptor status of the tumors. Stromal zeb1 expression was significantly lower in ductal in situ carcinomas than in invasive carcinomas (p = 0.020). Medullary carcinomas (p = 0.017) and mucinous carcinomas (p = 0.009) had a lower stromal expression of zeb1 than ductal carcinomas. Stromal twist expression was also lower in mucinous (p = 0.017) than in ductal carcinomas.
Expression of transcriptional factors zeb1 and twist mainly occur in the stromal compartment of breast carcinomas, possibly representing two populations of cells; EMT transformed neoplastic cells and stromal fibroblastic cells undergoing activation of zeb1 and twist due to growth factors produced by the tumor. However, epithelial expression of twist was associated with a poor prognosis, hinting at its importance in the spread of breast carcinoma.
PMCID: PMC3055233  PMID: 21324165
19.  Notch receptor inhibition reveals the importance of cyclin D1 and Wnt signaling in invasive esophageal squamous cell carcinoma 
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is one of the most aggressive forms of squamous cell carcinomas. Common genetic lesions in ESCC include p53 mutations and EGFR overexpression, both of which have been implicated in negative regulation of Notch signaling. In addition, cyclin D1 is overexpressed in ESCC and can be activated via EGFR, Notch and Wnt signaling. To elucidate how these genetic lesions may interact during the development and progression of ESCC, we tested a panel of genetically engineered human esophageal cells (keratinocytes) in organotypic 3D culture (OTC), a form of human tissue engineering. Notch signaling was suppressed in culture and mice by dominant negative Mastermind-like1 (DNMAML1), a genetic pan-Notch inhibitor. DNMAML1 mice were subjected to 4-Nitroquinoline 1-oxide-induced oral-esophageal carcinogenesis. Highly invasive characteristics of primary human ESCC were recapitulated in OTC as well as DNMAML1 mice. In OTC, cyclin D1 overexpression induced squamous hyperplasia. Concurrent EGFR overexpression and mutant p53 resulted in transformation and invasive growth. Interestingly, cell proliferation appeared to be regulated differentially between those committed to squamous-cell differentiation and those invading into the stroma. Invasive cells exhibited Notch-independent activation of cyclin D1 and Wnt signaling. Within the oral-esophageal squamous epithelia, Notch signaling regulated squamous-cell differentiation to maintain epithelial integrity, and thus may act as a tumor suppressor by preventing the development of a tumor-promoting inflammatory microenvironment.
PMCID: PMC3410579  PMID: 22860235
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma; organotypic 3D culture; EGFR; P53; cyclin D1; Wnt; Notch; squamous-cell differentiation; invasion; 4-Nitroquinoline 1-oxide
20.  MicroRNA-200c Represses Migration and Invasion of Breast Cancer Cells by Targeting Actin-Regulatory Proteins FHOD1 and PPM1F 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2012;32(3):633-651.
MicroRNA-200c (miR-200c) has been shown to suppress epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which is attributed mainly to targeting of ZEB1/ZEB2, repressors of the cell-cell contact protein E-cadherin. Here we demonstrated that modulation of miR-200c in breast cancer cells regulates cell migration, cell elongation, and transforming growth factor β (TGF-β)-induced stress fiber formation by impacting the reorganization of cytoskeleton that is independent of the ZEB/E-cadherin axis. We identified FHOD1 and PPM1F, direct regulators of the actin cytoskeleton, as novel targets of miR-200c. Remarkably, expression levels of FHOD1 and PPM1F were inversely correlated with the level of miR-200c in breast cancer cell lines, breast cancer patient samples, and 58 cancer cell lines of various origins. Furthermore, individual knockdown/overexpression of these target genes phenocopied the effects of miR-200c overexpression/inhibition on cell elongation, stress fiber formation, migration, and invasion. Mechanistically, targeting of FHOD1 by miR-200c resulted in decreased expression and transcriptional activity of serum response factor (SRF), mediated by interference with the translocation of the SRF coactivator mycocardin-related transcription factor A (MRTF-A). This finally led to downregulation of the expression and phosphorylation of the SRF target myosin light chain 2 (MLC2) gene, required for stress fiber formation and contractility. Thus, miR-200c impacts on metastasis by regulating several EMT-related processes, including a novel mechanism involving the direct targeting of actin-regulatory proteins.
PMCID: PMC3266604  PMID: 22144583
21.  A reciprocal repression between ZEB1 and members of the miR-200 family promotes EMT and invasion in cancer cells 
EMBO Reports  2008;9(6):582-589.
The embryonic programme ‘epithelial–mesenchymal transition' (EMT) is thought to promote malignant tumour progression. The transcriptional repressor zinc-finger E-box binding homeobox 1 (ZEB1) is a crucial inducer of EMT in various human tumours, and was recently shown to promote invasion and metastasis of tumour cells. Here, we report that ZEB1 directly suppresses transcription of microRNA-200 family members miR-141 and miR-200c, which strongly activate epithelial differentiation in pancreatic, colorectal and breast cancer cells. Notably, the EMT activators transforming growth factor β2 and ZEB1 are the predominant targets downregulated by these microRNAs. These results indicate that ZEB1 triggers an microRNA-mediated feedforward loop that stabilizes EMT and promotes invasion of cancer cells. Alternatively, depending on the environmental trigger, this loop might switch and induce epithelial differentiation, and thus explain the strong intratumorous heterogeneity observed in many human cancers.
PMCID: PMC2396950  PMID: 18483486
EMT; feedback loop; invasion; microRNA; ZEB1
22.  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
23.  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
24.  Nanoparticle-based delivery of siDCAMKL-1 increases microRNA-144 and inhibits colorectal cancer tumor growth via a Notch-1 dependent mechanism 
The development of effective drug delivery systems capable of transporting small interfering RNA (siRNA) has been elusive. We have previously reported that colorectal cancer tumor xenograft growth was arrested following treatment with liposomal preparation of siDCAMKL-1. In this report, we have utilized Nanoparticle (NP) technology to deliver DCAMKL-1 specific siRNA to knockdown potential key cancer regulators. In this study, mRNA/miRNA were analyzed using real-time RT-PCR and protein by western blot/immunohistochemistry. siDCAMKL-1 was encapsulated in Poly(lactide-co-glycolide)-based NPs (NP-siDCAMKL-1); Tumor xenografts were generated in nude mice, treated with NP-siDCAMKL-1 and DAPT (γ-secretase inhibitor) alone and in combination. To measure let-7a and miR-144 expression in vitro, HCT116 cells were transfected with plasmids encoding the firefly luciferase gene with let-7a and miR-144 miRNA binding sites in the 3'UTR.
Administration of NP-siDCAMKL-1 into HCT116 xenografts resulted in tumor growth arrest, downregulation of proto-oncogene c-Myc and Notch-1 via let-7a and miR-144 miRNA-dependent mechanisms, respectively. A corresponding reduction in let-7a and miR-144 specific luciferase activity was observed in vitro. Moreover, an upregulation of EMT inhibitor miR-200a and downregulation of the EMT-associated transcription factors ZEB1, ZEB2, Snail and Slug were observed in vivo. Lastly, DAPT-mediated inhibition of Notch-1 resulted in HCT116 tumor growth arrest and down regulation of Notch-1 via a miR-144 dependent mechanism.
These findings demonstrate that nanoparticle-based delivery of siRNAs directed at critical targets such as DCAMKL-1 may provide a novel approach to treat cancer through the regulation of endogenous miRNAs.
PMCID: PMC3200989  PMID: 21929751
DCAMKL-1; miR-144; microRNA; siRNA; notch signaling; nanoparticles; HCT116; tumor xenograft; cancer stem cells
25.  miR-101 suppresses the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition by targeting ZEB1 and ZEB2 in ovarian carcinoma 
Oncology Reports  2014;31(5):2021-2028.
Ovarian carcinoma is the most lethal gynecologic malignancy; the majority of patients succumb to the disease within 5 years of diagnosis. The poor survival rate is attributed to diagnosis at advanced stage, when the tumor has metastasized. The epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a necessary step toward metastatic tumor progression. Through integrated computational analysis, we recently identified a master microRNA (miRNA) network that includes miR-101 and regulates EMT in ovarian carcinoma. In the present study, we characterized the functions of miR-101. Using reporter gene assays, we demonstrated that miR-101 suppressed the expression of the E-cadherin repressors ZEB1 and ZEB2 by directly targeting the 3′-untranslated region (3′UTR) of both ZEB1 and ZEB2. Introduction of miR-101 significantly inhibited EMT and cell migration and invasion. Introducing cDNAs of ZEB1 and ZEB2 without 3′UTR abrogated miR-101-induced EMT alteration, respectively. Our findings showed that miR-101 represents a redundant mechanism for the miR-200 family that regulates EMT through two major E-cadherin transcriptional repressors.
PMCID: PMC4020617  PMID: 24677166
ovarian carcinoma; epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition; miR-101; ZEB1; ZEB2

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