MUC13 protects colorectal cancer cells from death by activating the NF-κB pathway and is a potential therapeutic target

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MUC13 is a transmembrane mucin glycoprotein that is over produced by many cancers, although its functions are not fully understood. Nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) is a key transcription factor promoting cancer cell survival, but therapeutically targeting this pathway has proved difficult because NF-κB has pleiotropic functions. Here, we report that MUC13 prevents colorectal cancer cell death by promoting two distinct pathways of NF-kB activation, consequently upregulating BCL-XL. MUC13 promoted tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-induced NF-κB activation by interacting with TNFR1 and the E3 ligase, cIAP1, to increase ubiquitination of RIPK1. MUC13 also promoted genotoxin-induced NF-κB activation by increasing phosphorylation of ATM and SUMOylation of NF-κB essential modulator. Moreover, elevated expression of cytoplasmic MUC13 and NF-κB correlated with colorectal cancer progression and metastases. Our demonstration that MUC13 enhances NF-κB signaling in response to both TNF and DNA-damaging agents provides a new molecular target for specific inhibition of NF-κB activation. As proof of principle, silencing MUC13 sensitized colorectal cancer cells to killing by cytotoxic drugs and inflammatory signals and abolished chemotherapy-induced enrichment of CD133+ CD44+ cancer stem cells, slowed xenograft growth in mice, and synergized with 5-fluourouracil to induce tumor regression. Therefore, these data indicate that combining chemotherapy and MUC13 antagonism could improve the treatment of metastatic cancers.

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