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- HuR promotes tumorigenic characteristics in hepatocellular carcinoma (2013)
- In the absence of apparent mutations, alteration of gene expression patterns represents the key mechanism by which normal cells evolve to cancer cells. Gene expression is tightly regulated by posttranscriptional processes. Within this context, RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) represent fundamental factors, since they control mechanisms, such as mRNA-stabilization, -translation and -degradation. Human antigen R (HuR) was among the first RBPs that have been directly associated to carcinogenesis. HuR modulates the stability and translation of mRNAs which encode proteins facilitating various ‘hallmarks of cancer’, namely proliferation, evasion of growth suppression, angiogenesis, cell death resistance, invasion and metastasis. Furthermore, it is well established that tumor-promoting inflammation contributes to tumorigenesis. In this process, monocytes are attracted to the site of the tumor and educated towards a tumor-promoting macrophage phenotype. While HuR has been extensively studied in various tumor cell types, little is known about HuR in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Thus, the aim of my work was to characterize the contribution of HuR to the development of cancer characteristics in HCC. I was particularly interested to investigate if HuR facilitates tumor-promoting inflammation, since a role for HuR has not been described in this context. To this end, I depleted HuR in HepG2 cells (HuR k/d) and used a co-culture model of HepG2 tumor spheroids and infiltrating monocytes to study the impact of HuR on the tumor microenvironment. I could show that depletion of HuR resulted in the reduction of cell numbers. Additionally, the expression of proliferation marker KI-67 and proto-oncogene c-Myc was reduced, supporting a proliferative role of HuR. Furthermore, exposure to cytotoxic staurosporine elevated apoptosis in HuR k/d cells compared to control cells. Concomitantly, the expression of the anti-apoptotic mediator B-cell lymphoma protein-2 (Bcl-2) was markedly reduced in the HuR k/d cells, pointing to an involvement of HuR in cell survival processes. Accordingly, a pro-survival function of HuR was also observed in tumor spheroids, since HuR k/d spheroids exhibited a larger necrotic core region at earlier time points and showed elevated numbers of dead cells compared to control (Ctr.) spheroids. Interestingly, HuR k/d spheroids isplayed reduced numbers of infiltrated macrophages, suggesting that HuR contributes to a tumor-promoting, inflammatory microenvironment by recruiting monocytes/macrophages to the tumor site. Aiming at identifying HuR-regulated factors responsible for the recruitment of monocytes, I found reduced levels of the chemokine interleukin 8 (IL-8) in supernatants of HuR k/d spheroids, supporting a critical involvement of HuR in the chemoattraction of monocytes. Analyzing supernatants of co-cultures of macrophages and HuR k/d or Ctr. spheroids revealed additional differences in chemokine secretion patterns. Interestingly, protein levels of many chemokines were elevated in co-cultures of HuR k/d spheroids compared to control co-cultures. Albeit enhanced chemokine secretion was observed, less monocytes are recruited into HuR k/d spheroids, further underlining the necessity of HuR in cancer related monocyte/macrophage attraction and infiltration. Differences between chemokine profiles of mono- and co-cultured spheroids could be attributable to changes in spheroid-derived chemokines as a result of the crosstalk with the immune cells. Provided the chemokines originate from monocytes/macrophages, the different secretion patterns suggest that HuR contributes to the modulation of the functional phenotype of infiltrated macrophages, since the tumorenvironment is critically involved in the shaping of macrophage phenotypes. Regions of low-oxygen (hypoxia) represent another critical feature of tumors. Therefore, I next analyzed the impact of HuR on the hypoxic response. Loss of HuR attenuated hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) 2α expression after exposure to hypoxia, while HIF-1α protein levels remained unaltered. Considering previous results of our group, showing that HIF-2α depletion (HIF-2α k/d) resulted in the enhanced expression of HIF-1α protein, I aimed to determine the involvement of HuR in the compensatory upregulation of HIF-1α protein in HIF-2α k/d cells. I could demonstrate that not only total HuR protein levels, but specifically cytoplasmic HuR was elevated in HIF-2α depleted cells pointing to enhanced HuR activity. Silencing HuR in HIF-2α deficient cells attenuated enhanced HIF-1α protein expression, thus confirming a direct role of HuR in the compensatory upregulation of HIF-1α. This as also reflected on HIF-1α target gene expression. I further investigated the mechanism underlying the compensatory HIF-1α expression in HIF-2α deficient cells. Analyzing HIF-1α mRNA expression, I excluded enhanced HIF1-α transcription and stability to account for elevated HIF-1α expression in HIF-2α k/d cells. HIF-1α promoter activity assays confirmed the mRNA data. Furthermore, HIF-1α protein half-life was not elevated in HIF-2α k/d cells compared to control cells, indicating that HIF-1α protein stability is not altered in HIF-2α k/d cells. Analysis of the association of HIF-1α with the translational machinery using polysomal fractionation finally revealed an increased istribution of HIF-1α mRNA in the heavier polysomal fractions in HIF-2α k/d cells compared to control cells. Since augmented ribosome occupancy is an indicator for more efficient translation, I propose enhanced HIF-1α translation as underlying principle of the compensatory increase in HIF-1α protein levels in HIF-2α k/d cells. In summary, my results demonstrate that HuR is critical for the development of cancer characteristics in HCC. Future work analyzing the impact of HuR on tumor-promoting inflammation, specifically macrophage attraction and activation could provide new trategies to inhibit macrophage-driven tumor progression. Furthermore, I provide evidence that HuR contributes to the hypoxic response by regulating the expression of HIF-1α and HIF-2α. Targeting single HIF-isoforms for tumor therapy should be carefully considered, because of their compensatory regulation when one α-subunit is depleted. Thus, therapeutic strategies targeting factors such as HuR that control both α-subunits and at the same time prevent compensation might be more promising.
- Erioflorin stabilizes the tumor suppressor Pdcd4 by inhibiting its interaction with the E3-ligase β-TrCP1 (2012)
- Loss of the tumor suppressor Pdcd4 was reported for various tumor entities and proposed as a prognostic marker in tumorigenesis. We previously characterized decreased Pdcd4 protein stability in response to mitogenic stimuli, which resulted from p70S6K1-dependent protein phosphorylation, β-TrCP1-mediated ubiquitination, and proteasomal destruction. Following high-throughput screening of natural product extract libraries using a luciferase-based reporter assay to monitor phosphorylation-dependent proteasomal degradation of the tumor suppressor Pdcd4, we succeeded in showing that a crude extract from Eriophyllum lanatum stabilized Pdcd4 from TPA-induced degradation. Erioflorin was identified as the active component and inhibited not only degradation of the Pdcd4-luciferase-based reporter but also of endogenous Pdcd4 at low micromolar concentrations. Mechanistically, erioflorin interfered with the interaction between the E3-ubiquitin ligase β-TrCP1 and Pdcd4 in cell culture and in in vitro binding assays, consequently decreasing ubiquitination and degradation of Pdcd4. Interestingly, while erioflorin stabilized additional β-TrCP-targets (such as IκBα and β-catenin), it did not prevent the degradation of targets of other E3-ubiquitin ligases such as p21 (a Skp2-target) and HIF-1α (a pVHL-target), implying selectivity for β-TrCP. Moreover, erioflorin inhibited the tumor-associated activity of known Pdcd4- and IκBα-regulated αtranscription factors, that is, AP-1 and NF-κB, altered cell cycle progression and suppressed proliferation of various cancer cell lines. Our studies succeeded in identifying erioflorin as a novel Pdcd4 stabilizer that inhibits the interaction of Pdcd4 with the E3-ubiquitin ligase β-TrCP1. Inhibition of E3-ligase/target-protein interactions may offer the possibility to target degradation of specific proteins only as compared to general proteasome inhibition.