Article

Loss of the SxxSS Motif in a Human T-Cell Factor-4 Isoform Confers Hypoxia Resistance to Liver Cancer: An Oncogenic Switch in Wnt Signaling

Liver Research Center, Rhode Island Hospital and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, United States of America.
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.53). 06/2012; 7(6):e39981. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039981
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Aberrantly activated Wnt/β-catenin signaling is important in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development. Downstream gene expressions involving the Wnt/β-catenin cascade occur through T-cell factor (TCF) proteins. Here, we show the oncogenic potential of human TCF-4 isoforms based on the expression of a single conserved SxxSS motif.
We investigated the TCF-4J and K isoform pair characterized by the presence (K) or absence (J) of the SxxSS motif. The mRNA expression profiles were examined in 47 pairs of human HCCs and adjacent non-cancerous liver tissues by RT-PCR. Proliferation, sphere assays and immunoblot analysis were performed under normoxia and hypoxia conditions. The ability of HCC cells overexpressing TCF-4J (J cells) and K (K cells) to grow as solid tumors in nude mice was explored.
TCF-4J expression was significantly upregulated in HCC tumors compared to corresponding peritumor and normal liver and was preferentially expressed in poorly differentiated HCCs. In contrast, TCF-4K was downregulated in those same HCC tumors. TCF-4J-overexpressing HCC cells (J cells) revealed a survival advantage under hypoxic conditions, high proliferation rate and formation of aggregates/spheres compared to overexpression of TCF-4K (K cells). The hypoxic J cells had high expression levels of HIF-2α and EGFR as possible mechanisms to promote tumorigenesis. Increased stability of HIF-2α under hypoxia in J cells was associated with a decreased level of von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) protein, a known E3 ligase for HIF-αs. In a xenograft model, the J cells rapidly developed tumors compared to K cells. Tumor tissues derived from J cells exhibited high expression levels of HIF-2α and EGFR compared to the slow developing and small K cell derived tumors.
Our results suggest that the specific TCF-4J isoform, which lacks a regulatory SxxSS motif, has robust tumor-initiating potential under hypoxic conditions.

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Available from: Hironori Koga, Jun 10, 2015
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