Silencing of epithelial CXCL12 expression by DNA hypermethylation promotes colonic carcinoma metastasis

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Abstract

Cellular metastasis is the most detrimental step in carcinoma disease progression, yet the mechanisms that regulate this process are poorly understood. CXCL12 and its receptor CXCR4 are co-expressed in several tissues and cell types throughout the body and play essential roles in development. Disruption of either gene causes embryonic lethality due to similar defects. Post-natally, CXCL12 signaling has a wide range of effects on CXCR4-expressing cells, including the directed migration of leukocytes, lymphocytes and hematopoietic stem cells. Recently, this signaling axis has also been described as an important regulator of directed carcinoma cell metastasis. We show herein that while CXCR4 expression remains consistent, constitutive colonic epithelial expression of CXCL12 is silenced by DNA hypermethylation in primary colorectal carcinomas as well as colorectal carcinoma-derived cell lines. Inhibition of DNA methyltransferase (Dnmt) enzymes with 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine or genetic ablation of both Dnmt1 and Dnmt3b prevented promoter methylation and restored CXCL12 expression. Re-expression of functional, endogenous CXCL12 in colorectal carcinoma cells dramatically reduced metastatic tumor formation in mice, as well as foci formation in soft agar. Decreased metastasis was correlated with increased caspase activity in cells re-expressing CXCL12. These data constitute the unique observation that silencing CXCL12 within colonic carcinoma cells greatly enhances their metastatic potential.

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