Epithelial to mesenchymal transition in arsenic-transformed cells promotes angiogenesis through activating β-catenin–vascular endothelial growth factor pathway

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Arsenic exposure represents a major health concern increasing cancer risks, yet the mechanism of arsenic carcinogenesis has not been elucidated. We and others recently reported that cell malignant transformation by arsenic is accompanied by epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). However, the role of EMT in arsenic carcinogenesis is not well understood. Although previous studies showed that short term exposure of endothelial cells to arsenic stimulated angiogenesis, it remains to be determined whether cells that were malignantly transformed by long term arsenic exposure have a pro-angiogenic effect. The objective of this study was to investigate the effect of arsenic-transformed human bronchial epithelial cells that underwent EMT on angiogenesis and the underlying mechanism. It was found that the conditioned medium from arsenic-transformed cells strongly stimulated tube formation by human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). Moreover, enhanced angiogenesis was detected in mouse xenograft tumor tissues resulting from inoculation of arsenic-transformed cells. Mechanistic studies revealed that β-catenin was activated in arsenic-transformed cells up-regulating its target gene expression including angiogenic-stimulating vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Stably expressing microRNA-200b in arsenic-transformed cells that reversed EMT inhibited β-catenin activation, decreased VEGF expression and reduced tube formation by HUVECs. SiRNA knockdown β-catenin decreased VEGF expression. Adding a VEGF neutralizing antibody into the conditioned medium from arsenic-transformed cells impaired tube formation by HUVECs. Reverse transcriptase-PCR analysis revealed that the mRNA levels of canonical Wnt ligands were not increased in arsenic-transformed cells. These findings suggest that EMT in arsenic-transformed cells promotes angiogenesis through activating β-catenin–VEGF pathway.

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