Constitutively active MEK1 is sufficient to induce epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in intestinal epithelial cells and to promote tumor invasion and metastasis


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Abstract

Constitutive activation of the MAP kinase kinase MEK1 induces oncogenic transformation in intestinal epithelial cells. Loss of cell–cell adhesion followed by the dissociation of epithelial structures is a prerequisite for increased cell motility and tumor invasion. This phenotypic switch is designated epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). EMT also plays an important role in determining the dissemination of tumors. However, the role of MEK1 in intestinal EMT, tumor invasion and metastasis has not been elucidated. To determine the functions of activated MEK1 in intestinal tumorigenesis, we established intestinal epithelial cell lines that overexpress wild-type MEK1 (wtMEK) or activated MEK1 (caMEK). Our results indicate that expression of caMEK is sufficient to induce EMT as confirmed with the induction of N-cadherin, vimentin, Snail1 and Snail2, whereas a reduction in E-cadherin, occludin, ZO-1 and cortical F-actin was noted. The Snail1 and Snail2 promoter analyses revealed that Egr-1 and Fra-1, an AP-1 protein, are responsible for MEK1-induced Snail1 and Snail2 expression, respectively. Cells expressing activated MEK1 clearly acquired an invasive capacity when compared to wtMEK-expressing cells. Zymography studies confirmed elevated levels of MMP2 and MMP9 activities in media of caMEK-expressing cells. Importantly, cells expressing activated MEK1 induced tumors with short latency in correlation with their ability to induce experimental metastasisin vivoand to express factors known to promote colorectal cancer cell metastasis. In conclusion, our results demonstrate, for the first time, that constitutive activation of MEK1 in intestinal epithelial cells is sufficient to induce an EMT associated with tumor invasion and metastasis. © 2009 UICC

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