Higher susceptibility of spontaneous and NNK-induced lung neoplasms in connexin 43 deficient CD1 × AJ F1 mice: Paradoxical expression of connexin 43 during lung carcinogenesis

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Connexins (Cxs) are proteins that form the communicating gap junctions, and reportedly have a role in carcinogenesis. Here, we evaluated the importance of Connexin43 (Cx43) in spontaneous and 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK)-induced lung carcinogenesis. Male wild-type (Cx43+/+) and hemizygote (Cx43+/−) CD1 × AJ F1 mice were injected with NNK or saline. After 60 weeks mice were euthanized; lung nodules were counted, measured, and fixed in formalin or snap frozen. Immunohistochemistry for Cx43 and Beta-catenin (β-catenin) was performed and Cx43 mRNA expression was evaluated by real-time PCR. Cx43 deletion significantly increased the incidence and number of spontaneous nodules in the CD1 × AJ F1 mice and the number of gross lesions and the aggressiveness of lesions in NNK-treated mice. Cx43 mRNA increased significantly and was correlated with the aggressiveness of tumors, although lesions from Cx43+/− mice expressed less Cx43 RNAm than their counterparts. Lung parenchyma presented a Cx43 immunostaining pattern with points or plaques between cells. In hyperplasias and adenomas, Cx43 was found in the membrane and in cytoplasm. Malignant lesions presented increased Cx43 in cytoplasm and a few membrane spots of immunostaining. β-catenin was weakly expressed in lung parenchyma. Though hyperplasias presented some cells with nuclear β-catenin, NNK-induced tumors contained a higher number of this staining pattern. Also, no difference in β-catenin occurred between both genotypes independently of the histological grade. In summary, our results indicate that Cx43 acts as a tumor suppressor gene in early lung tumorigenesis and loses this property in advanced carcinogenesis. Therefore, Cxs are better classified as conditional tumor suppressors.

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