BCL-3 expression promotes colorectal tumorigenesis through activation of AKT signalling

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Colorectal cancer remains the fourth most common cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide. Here we investigate the role of nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) co-factor B-cell CLL/lymphoma 3 (BCL-3) in promoting colorectal tumour cell survival.


Immunohistochemistry was carried out on 47 tumour samples and normal tissue from resection margins. The role of BCL-3/NF-κB complexes on cell growth was studied in vivo and in vitro using an siRNA approach and exogenous BCL-3 expression in colorectal adenoma and carcinoma cells. The question whether BCL-3 activated the AKT/protein kinase B (PKB) pathway in colorectal tumour cells was addressed by western blotting and confocal microscopy, and the ability of 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) to suppress BCL-3 expression was also investigated.


We report increased BCL-3 expression in human colorectal cancers and demonstrate that BCL-3 expression promotes tumour cell survival in vitro and tumour growth in mouse xenografts in vivo, dependent on interaction with NF-κB p50 or p52 homodimers. We show that BCL-3 promotes cell survival under conditions relevant to the tumour microenvironment, protecting both colorectal adenoma and carcinoma cells from apoptosis via activation of the AKT survival pathway: AKT activation is mediated via both PI3K and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathways, leading to phosphorylation of downstream targets GSK-3β and FoxO1/3a. Treatment with 5-ASA suppressed BCL-3 expression in colorectal cancer cells.


Our study helps to unravel the mechanism by which BCL-3 is linked to poor prognosis in colorectal cancer; we suggest that targeting BCL-3 activity represents an exciting therapeutic opportunity potentially increasing the sensitivity of tumour cells to conventional therapy.

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