Gene Summary

Gene:INHBA; inhibin subunit beta A
Aliases: EDF, FRP
Summary:This gene encodes a member of the TGF-beta (transforming growth factor-beta) superfamily of proteins. The encoded preproprotein is proteolytically processed to generate a subunit of the dimeric activin and inhibin protein complexes. These complexes activate and inhibit, respectively, follicle stimulating hormone secretion from the pituitary gland. The encoded protein also plays a role in eye, tooth and testis development. Elevated expression of this gene may be associated with cancer cachexia in human patients. [provided by RefSeq, Aug 2016]
Databases:OMIM, HGNC, Ensembl, GeneCard, Gene
Protein:inhibin beta A chain
Source:NCBIAccessed: 31 August, 2019


What does this gene/protein do?
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Pathways:What pathways are this gene/protein implicaed in?
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Cancer Overview

Research Indicators

Publications Per Year (1994-2019)
Graph generated 01 September 2019 using data from PubMed using criteria.

Literature Analysis

Mouse over the terms for more detail; many indicate links which you can click for dedicated pages about the topic.

Tag cloud generated 31 August, 2019 using data from PubMed, MeSH and CancerIndex

Specific Cancers (8)

Data table showing topics related to specific cancers and associated disorders. Scope includes mutations and abnormal protein expression.

Note: list is not exhaustive. Number of papers are based on searches of PubMed (click on topic title for arbitrary criteria used).

Latest Publications: INHBA (cancer-related)

Yang H, Wu J, Zhang J, et al.
Integrated bioinformatics analysis of key genes involved in progress of colon cancer.
Mol Genet Genomic Med. 2019; 7(4):e00588 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
BACKGROUND: Colon cancer is one of most malignant cancers around worldwide. Nearly 20% patients were diagnosed at colon cancer with metastasis. However, the lack of understanding regarding its pathogenesis brings difficulties to study it.
METHODS: In this study, we acquired high-sequence data from GEO dataset, and performed integrated bioinformatic analysis including differently expressed genes, gene ontology and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes pathways analysis, protein-protein analysis, survival analysis to analyze the development of colon cancer.
RESULTS: By comparing the colon cancer tissues with normal colon tissues, 109 genes were dysregulated; among them, 83 genes were downregulated and 26 genes were upregulated. Two clusters were founded based on the STRING database and MCODE plugin of cytoscape software. Then, six genes with prognostic value were filtered out in UALCAN website.
CONCLUSION: We found that SPP1, VIP, COL11A1, CA2, ADAM12, INHBA could provide great significant prognostic value for colon cancer.

Liu Y, Pandey PR, Sharma S, et al.
ID2 and GJB2 promote early-stage breast cancer progression by regulating cancer stemness.
Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2019; 175(1):77-90 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
PURPOSE: Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a non-invasive form of breast cancer which could progress to or recur as invasive breast cancer. The underlying molecular mechanism of DCIS progression is yet poorly understood, and appropriate biomarkers to distinguish benign form of DCIS from potentially invasive tumor are urgently needed.
METHODS: To identify the key regulators of DCIS progression, we performed gene-expression analysis of syngeneic breast cancer cell lines MCF10A,, and MCF10CA and cross-referenced the targets with patient cohort data.
RESULTS: We identified ID2 as a critical gene for DCIS initiation and found that ID2 promoted DCIS formation by enhancing cancer stemness of pre-malignant cells. ID2 also plays a pivotal role in survival of the aggressive cancer cells. In addition, we identified INHBA and GJB2 as key regulators for the transition of benign DCIS to aggressive phenotype. These two genes regulate migration, colonization, and stemness of invasive cancer cells. Upregulation of ID2 and GJB2 predicts poor prognosis after breast-conserving surgery. Finally, we found a natural compound Helichrysetin as ID2 inhibitor which suppresses DCIS formation in vitro and in vivo.
CONCLUSION: Our results indicate that ID2 is a key driver of DCIS formation and therefore is considered to be a potential target for prevention of DCIS, while INHBA and GJB2 play vital roles in progression of DCIS to IDC and they may serve as potential prognosis markers.

Zhang C, Liang Y, Ma MH, et al.
KRT15, INHBA, MATN3, and AGT are aberrantly methylated and differentially expressed in gastric cancer and associated with prognosis.
Pathol Res Pract. 2019; 215(5):893-899 [PubMed] Related Publications
AIM: The present study aims to identify aberrantly methylated and differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in gastric cancer (GC) and explore their potential role in the carcinogenesis and development of GC.
METHODS: The original RNA-Seq, clinical information and Illumina Human Methylation 27 Chip data associated with GC were downloaded from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) database using the gdc-client tool. The DEGs and aberrantly methylated genes (AMGs) were screened with edgeR and limma package in R, respectively. The cut-off criteria for DEG identification were P < 0.05 and fold change (FC) >2.0, and for AMG identification were P < 0.05 and |t|>2.0. Genes which were both DEGs and AMGs were considered to be regulated by aberrant DNA methylation in GC. The common genes were used for further functional enrichment analysis in the categories of cellular component, molecular function, biological process and biological pathway.
RESULTS: In total 465 genes including 336 down-regulated genes with hyper-methylation (DGs-Hyper) and 129 up-regulated genes with hypo-methylation (UGs-Hypo) were identified. Cellular component analysis showed that these genes were mainly expressed in the cytoplasm and plasma membrane. Molecular function and biological process analysis indicated that the genes primarily participate in cell communication, signal transduction, cell growth/maintenance and function as transcription factors, receptor, cell adhesion molecules, and transmembrane receptor protein tyrosine kinases. Biological pathway analysis revealed that the genes are involved in some crucial pathways including epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, IL3-mediated signaling, mTOR signaling, VEGF/VEGFR and c-Met signaling. KRT15, INHBA, MATN3, and AGT are significantly associated with the prognosis of GC patients.
CONCLUSION: Our study identified several DEGs regulated by aberrant DNA methylation in GC. The mechanism of DNA methylation in the carcinogenesis and development of GC could be further explored in these genes, especially KRT15, INHBA, MATN3, and AGT.

Pellatt AJ, Mullany LE, Herrick JS, et al.
The TGFβ-signaling pathway and colorectal cancer: associations between dysregulated genes and miRNAs.
J Transl Med. 2018; 16(1):191 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
BACKGROUND: The TGFβ-signaling pathway plays an important role in the pathogenesis of colorectal cancer (CRC). Loss of function of several genes within this pathway, such as bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) have been seen as key events in CRC progression.
METHODS: In this study we comprehensively evaluate differential gene expression (RNASeq) of 81 genes in the TGFβ-signaling pathway and evaluate how dysregulated genes are associated with miRNA expression (Agilent Human miRNA Microarray V19.0). We utilize paired carcinoma and normal tissue from 217 CRC cases. We evaluate the associations between differentially expressed genes and miRNAs and sex, age, disease stage, and survival months.
RESULTS: Thirteen genes were significantly downregulated and 14 were significantly upregulated after considering fold change (FC) of > 1.50 or < 0.67 and multiple comparison adjustment. Bone morphogenetic protein genes BMP5, BMP6, and BMP2 and growth differentiation factor GDF7 were downregulated. BMP4, BMP7, INHBA (Inhibin beta A), TGFBR1, TGFB2, TGIF1, TGIF2, and TFDP1 were upregulated. In general, genes with the greatest dysregulation, such as BMP5 (FC 0.17, BMP6 (FC 0.25), BMP2 (FC 0.32), CDKN2B (FC 0.32), MYC (FC 3.70), BMP7 (FC 4.17), and INHBA (FC 9.34) showed dysregulation in the majority of the population (84.3, 77.4, 81.1, 80.2, 82.0, 51.2, and 75.1% respectively). Four genes, TGFBR2, ID4, ID1, and PITX2, were un-associated or slightly upregulated in microsatellite-stable (MSS) tumors while downregulated in microsatellite-unstable (MSI) tumors. Eight dysregulated genes were associated with miRNA differential expression. E2F5 and THBS1 were associated with one or two miRNAs; RBL1, TGFBR1, TGIF2, and INHBA were associated with seven or more miRNAs with multiple seed-region matches. Evaluation of the joint effects of mRNA:miRNA identified interactions that were stronger in more advanced disease stages and varied by survival months.
CONCLUSION: These data support an interaction between miRNAs and genes in the TGFβ-signaling pathway in association with CRC risk. These interactions are associated with unique clinical characteristics that may provide targets for further investigations.

Carlton AL, Illendula A, Gao Y, et al.
Small molecule inhibition of the CBFβ/RUNX interaction decreases ovarian cancer growth and migration through alterations in genes related to epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition.
Gynecol Oncol. 2018; 149(2):350-360 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
OBJECTIVE: Ovarian cancer survival and treatment have improved minimally in the past 20years. Novel treatment strategies are needed to combat this disease. This study investigates the effects of chemical inhibition of the CBFβ/RUNX protein-protein interaction on ovarian cancer cell lines.
METHODS: Ovarian cancer cell lines were treated with CBFβ/RUNX inhibitors, and the effects on proliferation, DNA replication, wound healing, and anchorage-independent growth were measured. RNA-Seq was performed on compound-treated cells to identify differentially expressed genes. Genes altered by compound treatment were targeted with siRNAs, and effects on DNA replication and wound healing were measured.
RESULTS: Chemical inhibition of the CBFβ/RUNX interaction decreases ovarian cancer cell proliferation. Inhibitor treatment leads to an S-phase cell cycle delay, as indicated by an increased percentage of cells in S-phase, and a decreased DNA replication rate. Inhibitor treatment also reduces wound healing and anchorage-independent growth. RNA-Seq on compound-treated cells revealed changes in a small number of genes related to proliferation and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition. siRNA-mediated knockdown of INHBA and MMP1 - two genes whose expression decreases with compound treatment - slowed DNA replication and impaired wound healing.
CONCLUSIONS: Chemical inhibition of the CBFβ/RUNX interaction is a viable strategy for the treatment of ovarian cancer.

Sugawara S, Yamada Y, Arai T, et al.
Dual strands of the miR-223 duplex (miR-223-5p and miR-223-3p) inhibit cancer cell aggressiveness: targeted genes are involved in bladder cancer pathogenesis.
J Hum Genet. 2018; 63(5):657-668 [PubMed] Related Publications
Analyses of microRNA (miRNA) expression signatures obtained by RNA sequencing revealed that some passenger miRNAs (miR-144-5p, miR-145-3p, miR-149-3p, miR-150-3p, and miR-199a-3p) acted as anti-tumor miRNAs in several types of cancer cells. The involvement of passenger strands in the pathogenesis of human cancer is a novel concept. Based on the miRNA signature of bladder cancer (BC) obtained by RNA sequencing, we focused on both strands of the miR-223-duplex (miR-223-5p and miR-223-3p) and investigated their functional significance in BC cells. Ectopic expression of these miRNAs showed that both miR-223-3p (the guide strand) and miR-223-5p (the passenger strand) inhibited cancer cell migration and invasion of BC cells. The role of miR-223-5p (the passenger strand) has not been well studied. Combining gene expression studies and in silico database analyses, we demonstrated the presence of 20 putative target genes that could be regulated by miR-223-5p in BC cells. Among these targets, high expression of five genes (ANLN, INHBA, OIP5, CCNB1, and CDCA2) was significantly associated with poor prognosis of BC patients based on The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) database. Moreover, we showed that a gene (ANLN) encoding a multifunctional actin-binding protein was directly regulated by miR-223-5p in BC cells. Overexpression of ANLN was observed in BC clinical specimens and high expression of ANLN was significantly associated with poor prognosis of BC patients. We suggest that studies of regulatory cancer networks, including the passenger strands of miRNAs, may provide new insights into the pathogenic mechanisms of BC.

Icay K, Liu C, Hautaniemi S
Dynamic visualization of multi-level molecular data: The Director package in R.
Comput Methods Programs Biomed. 2018; 153:129-136 [PubMed] Related Publications
BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: High-throughput measurement technologies have triggered a rise in large-scale cancer studies containing multiple levels of molecular data. While there are a number of efficient methods to analyze individual data types, there are far less that enhance data interpretation after analysis. We present the R package Director, a dynamic visualization approach to linking and interrogating multiple levels of molecular data after analysis for clinically meaningful, actionable insights.
METHODS: Sankey diagrams are traditionally used to represent quantitative flows through multiple, distinct events. Regulation can be interpreted as a flow of biological information through a series of molecular interactions. Functions in Director introduce novel drawing capabilities to make Sankey diagrams robust to a wide range of quantitative measures and to depict molecular interactions as regulatory cascades. The package streamlines creation of diagrams using as input quantitative measurements identifying nodes as molecules of interest and paths as the interaction strength between two molecules.
RESULTS: Director's utility is demonstrated with quantitative measurements of candidate microRNA-gene networks identified in an ovarian cancer dataset. A recent study reported eight miRNAs as master regulators of signature genes in epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). The Sankey diagrams generated with data from this study furthers interpretation of the miRNAs' roles by revealing potential co-regulatory behavior in the extracellular matrix (ECM). An additional analysis identified 32 genes differentially expressed between good and poor prognosis patients in four significant pathways (FDR  ≤  0.1), three of which support a complementary role of the ECM in ovarian cancer. The resulting diagram created with Director suggest elevated levels of COL11A1, INHBA, and THBS2 - a signature feature of metastasis [1] - and decreased levels of their targeting miRNAs define poor prognosis.
CONCLUSION: We have demonstrated a visualization approach suitable for implementation in an analysis workflow, linking multiple levels of molecular data to gain novel perspective on candidate biomarkers in a complex disease. The diagrams are dynamic, easily replicable, and rendered locally as HTML files to facilitate sharing. The R package Director is simple to use and widely available on all operating systems through Bioconductor ( and GitHub (

Jiang L, Si T, Yu M, et al.
The tumor suppressive role of inhibin βA in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
Leuk Lymphoma. 2018; 59(5):1202-1212 [PubMed] Related Publications
INHBA (inhibin βA), a subunit of a ligand of the transforming growth factor-β superfamily, is known to play diverse roles in various solid tumors. However, its role in hematologic malignancies remains unexplored. Here, we investigated the function of INHBA in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). Both mRNA and protein levels of INHBA were significantly downregulated in primary DLBCL tissues, irrespective of germinal center B-cell-like (GCB) or non-GCB subtype, compared to those in benign tonsils. The low level of INHBA in patients with de novo DLBCL was correlated with reduced overall and progression-free survival. Ectopic expression of INHBA in DLBCL cell lines (OCI-Ly01 and SUDHL-10) resulted in reduced cell proliferation, increased spontaneous apoptosis and arrested cell cycle in vitro and suppressed xenograft tumor growth in vivo. Moreover, INHBA enhanced the chemosensitivity of DLBCL cells. Thus, our results provide novel evidence that INHBA functions as a tumor suppressor in DLBCL.

Si T, Lu Y, Li F, et al.
High expression of INHBA is an adverse prognostic factor for de novo acute myeloid leukemia.
Leuk Lymphoma. 2018; 59(1):114-120 [PubMed] Related Publications
Inhibin-β A (INHBA) is a ligand of the transforming growth factor β superfamily and associated with tumorigenesis and tumor progression in solid tumors. In this study, we investigated the expression levels and clinical significance of INHBA in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The results showed that high expression of INHBA was significantly correlated with elderly age (>60 years) (p = .038), adverse cytogenetic risks (p = .034), negative NPM1 mutation (p = .016), positive FLT3 internal tandem duplications (p = .011), and low hemoglobin levels (<60 g/dL) (p = .04). Patients with high levels of INHBA had poor responses to therapies as indicated by lower complete remission rate (p = .004), higher early death rate (p = .018), and shorter relapse-free survival (p = .04) and overall survival (p = .003). Moreover, multivariate analysis showed that high expression of INHBA was an independent adverse prognostic factor for AML. Taken together, our study suggested that high expression of INHBA was an adverse prognostic factor for de novo AML.

Singh M, Venugopal C, Tokar T, et al.
RNAi screen identifies essential regulators of human brain metastasis-initiating cells.
Acta Neuropathol. 2017; 134(6):923-940 [PubMed] Related Publications
Brain metastases (BM) are the most common brain tumor in adults and are a leading cause of cancer mortality. Metastatic lesions contain subclones derived from their primary lesion, yet their functional characterization is limited by a paucity of preclinical models accurately recapitulating the metastatic cascade, emphasizing the need for a novel approach to BM and their treatment. We identified a unique subset of stem-like cells from primary human patient brain metastases, termed brain metastasis-initiating cells (BMICs). We now establish a BMIC patient-derived xenotransplantation (PDXT) model as an investigative tool to comprehensively interrogate human BM. Using both in vitro and in vivo RNA interference screens of these BMIC models, we identified SPOCK1 and TWIST2 as essential BMIC regulators. SPOCK1 in particular is a novel regulator of BMIC self-renewal, modulating tumor initiation and metastasis from the lung to the brain. A prospective cohort of primary lung cancer specimens showed that SPOCK1 was overexpressed only in patients who ultimately developed BM. Protein-protein interaction network mapping between SPOCK1 and TWIST2 identified novel pathway interactors with significant prognostic value in lung cancer patients. Of these genes, INHBA, a TGF-β ligand found mutated in lung adenocarcinoma, showed reduced expression in BMICs with knockdown of SPOCK1. In conclusion, we have developed a useful preclinical model of BM, which has served to identify novel putative BMIC regulators, presenting potential therapeutic targets that block the metastatic process, and transform a uniformly fatal systemic disease into a locally controlled and eminently more treatable one.

Katayama Y, Oshima T, Sakamaki K, et al.
Clinical Significance of
In Vivo. 2017 Jul-Aug; 31(4):565-571 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
BACKGROUND: Standard treatment for stage II/III gastric cancer is curative resection followed by adjuvant chemotherapy. However, the five-year survival remains unsatisfactory. Inhibin βA (INHBA) has been reported to be associated with cancer cell proliferation and chemoresistance.
PATIENTS AND METHODS: We studied the clinical significance of INHBA gene expression in 134 patients with stage II/III gastric cancer who received adjuvant chemotherapy with S-1. INHBA expression of specimens of cancer tissue and adjacent normal mucosa was measured by quantitative real-time, reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).
RESULTS: INHBA expression levels were significantly higher in cancer tissue than in adjacent normal mucosa. High INHBA expression was associated with significantly poorer 5-year survival than was low expression. On multivariate analysis, INHBA expression was an independent prognostic factor.
CONCLUSION: INHBA gene expression in gastric cancer tissue is considered a useful independent predictor of outcomes in patients with stage II/III gastric cancer who receive adjuvant chemotherapy with S-1.

McCallie BR, Parks JC, Griffin DK, et al.
Infertility diagnosis has a significant impact on the transcriptome of developing blastocysts.
Mol Hum Reprod. 2017; 23(8):549-556 [PubMed] Related Publications
STUDY QUESTION: Is the human blastocyst transcriptome associated with infertility diagnosis, specifically: polycystic ovaries (PCO), male factor (MF) and unexplained (UE)?
SUMMARY ANSWER: The global blastocyst transcriptome was significantly altered in association with a PCO, MF and UE infertility diagnosis.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Infertility diagnosis has an impact on the probability for a successful outcome following an IVF cycle. Limited information is known regarding the relationship between a specific infertility diagnosis and blastocyst transcription during preimplantation development.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Blastocysts created during infertility treatment from patients with specific infertility diagnoses (PCO, MF and UE) were analyzed for global transcriptome compared to fertile donor oocyte blastocysts (control).
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Surplus cryopreserved blastocysts were donated with patient consent and institutional review board approval. Female patients were <38 years old with male patients <40 years old. Blastocysts were grouped according to infertility diagnosis: PCO (n = 50), MF (n = 50), UE (n = 50) and fertile donor oocyte controls (n = 50). Pooled blastocysts were lysed for RNA isolation followed by microarray analysis using the SurePrint G3 Human Gene Expression Microarray. Validation was performed on significant genes of interest using real-time quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR).
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Transcription alterations were observed for all infertility etiologies compared to controls, resulting in differentially expressed genes: PCO = 869, MF = 348 and UE = 473 (P < 0.05; >2-fold). Functional annotation of biological and molecular processes revealed both similarities, as well as differences, across the infertility groups. All infertility etiologies displayed transcriptome alterations in signal transducer activity, receptor binding, reproduction, cell adhesion and response to stimulus. Blastocysts from PCO patients were also enriched for apoptotic genes while MF blastocysts displayed enrichment for genes involved in cancer processes. Blastocysts from couples with unexplained infertility displayed transcription alterations related to various disease states, which included mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) and adipocytokine signaling. RT-qPCR validation confirmed differential gene expression for the following genes: BCL2 like 10 (BCL2L10), heat shock protein family A member 1A (HSPA1A), heat shock protein family A member 1B (HSPA1B), activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3), fibroblast growth factor 9 (FGF9), left-right determination factor 1 (LEFTY1), left-right determination factor 2 (LEFTY2), growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15), inhibin beta A subunit (INHBA), adherins junctions associated protein 1 (AJAP1), cadherin 9 (CDH9) and laminin subunit alpha 4 (LAMA4) (P < 0.05; >2-fold).
LARGE SCALE DATA: Not available due to participant privacy.
LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Blastocyst samples for microarray analysis required pooling. While this allows for an overall average in each infertility etiology group and can reduce noise from sample-to-sample variation, it cannot give a detailed analysis of each blastocyst within the group.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Underlying patient infertility diagnosis has an impact on the blastocyst transcriptome, modifying gene expression associated with developmental competence and implantation potential.
STUDY FUNDING AND COMPETING INTEREST(S): No conflict of interest or outside funding provided.

Seachrist DD, Sizemore ST, Johnson E, et al.
Follistatin is a metastasis suppressor in a mouse model of HER2-positive breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Res. 2017; 19(1):66 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
BACKGROUND: Follistatin (FST) is an intrinsic inhibitor of activin, a member of the transforming growth factor-β superfamily of ligands. The prognostic value of FST and its family members, the follistatin-like (FSTL) proteins, have been studied in various cancers. However, these studies, as well as limited functional analyses of the FSTL proteins, have yielded conflicting results on the role of these proteins in disease progression. Furthermore, very few have been focused on FST itself. We assessed whether FST may be a suppressor of tumorigenesis and/or metastatic progression in breast cancer.
METHODS: Using publicly available gene expression data, we examined the expression patterns of FST and INHBA, a subunit of activin, in normal and cancerous breast tissue and the prognostic value of FST in breast cancer metastases, recurrence-free survival, and overall survival. The functional effects of activin and FST on in vitro proliferation, migration, and invasion of breast cancer cells were also examined. FST overexpression in an autochthonous mouse model of breast cancer was then used to assess the in vivo impact of FST on metastatic progression.
RESULTS: Examination of multiple breast cancer datasets revealed that FST expression is reduced in breast cancers compared with normal tissue and that low FST expression predicts increased metastasis and reduced overall survival. FST expression was also reduced in a mouse model of HER2/Neu-induced metastatic breast cancer. We found that FST blocks activin-induced breast epithelial cell migration in vitro, suggesting that its loss may promote breast cancer aggressiveness. To directly determine if FST restoration could inhibit metastatic progression, we transgenically expressed FST in the HER2/Neu model. Although FST had no impact on tumor initiation or growth, it completely blocked the formation of lung metastases.
CONCLUSIONS: These data indicate that FST is a bona fide metastasis suppressor in this mouse model and support future efforts to develop an FST mimetic to suppress metastatic progression.

Ke D, Li H, Zhang Y, et al.
The combination of circulating long noncoding RNAs AK001058, INHBA-AS1, MIR4435-2HG, and CEBPA-AS1 fragments in plasma serve as diagnostic markers for gastric cancer.
Oncotarget. 2017; 8(13):21516-21525 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
BACKGROUND: Suitable diagnostic markers for cancers are urgently required in clinical practice. Long non-coding RNAs, which have been reported in many cancer types, are a potential new class of biomarkers for tumor diagnosis.
RESULTS: Five lncRNAs, including AK001058, INHBA-AS1, MIR4435-2HG, UCA1 and CEBPA-AS1 were validated to be increased in gastric cancer tissues. Furthermore, we found that plasma level of these five lncRNAs were significantly higher in gastric cancer patients compared with normal controls. By receiver operating characteristic analysis, we found that the combination of plasma lncRNAs with the area under the curve up to 0.921, including AK001058, INHBA-AS1, MIR4435-2HG, and CEBPA-AS1, is a better indicator of gastric cancer than their individual levels or other lncRNA combinations. Simultaneously, we found that the expression levels of a series of MIR4435-2HG fragments are different in gastric cancer plasma samples, but most of them higher than that in healthy control plasma samples.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: LncRNA gene expression profiles were analyzed in two pairs of human gastric cancer and adjacent non-tumor tissues by microarray analysis. Nine gastric cancer-associated lncRNAs were selected and assessed by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction in gastric tissues, and 5 of them were further analyzed in gastric cancer patients' plasma.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results demonstrate that certain lncRNAs, such as AK001058, INHBA-AS1, MIR4435-2HG, and CEBPA-AS1, are enriched in human gastric cancer tissues and significantly elevated in the plasma of patients with gastric cancer. These findings indicate that the combination of these four lncRNAs might be used as diagnostic or prognostic markers for gastric cancer patients.

Chang WM, Lin YF, Su CY, et al.
Dysregulation of RUNX2/Activin-A Axis upon miR-376c Downregulation Promotes Lymph Node Metastasis in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
Cancer Res. 2016; 76(24):7140-7150 [PubMed] Related Publications
Epigenetic correlates of the head and neck cancer may illuminate its pathogenic roots. Through a gene set enrichment analysis, we found that the oncogenic transcription factor RUNX2 is widely upregulated in the head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) with lymph node metastasis, where it also predicts poor prognosis in patients with HNSCC. Enforced expression of ectopic RUNX2 promoted the metastatic capabilities of HNSCC, whereas RUNX2 silencing inhibited these features. Mechanistic investigations showed that manipulating levels of activin A (INHBA) could rescue or compromise the RUNX2-mediated metastatic capabilities of HNSCC cells. Furthermore, we found that miR-376c-3p encoded within the 3'-untranslated region of RUNX2 played a pivotal role in regulating RUNX2 expression in highly metastatic HNSCC cells, where it was downregulated commonly. Restoring miR-376c expression in this setting suppressed expression of RUNX2/INHBA axis along with metastatic capability. Clinically, we observed an inverse relationship between miR-376c-3p expression and the RUNX2/INHBA axis in HNSCC specimens. In summary, our results defined a novel pathway in which dysregulation of the RUNX2/INHBA axis due to miR-376c downregulation fosters lymph node metastasis in HNSCC. Cancer Res; 76(24); 7140-50. ©2016 AACR.

Grigoroiu M, Tagett R, Draghici S, et al.
Gene-expression Profiling in Non-small Cell Lung Cancer with Invasion of Mediastinal Lymph Nodes for Prognosis Evaluation.
Cancer Genomics Proteomics. 2015 Sep-Oct; 12(5):231-42 [PubMed] Related Publications
BACKGROUND/AIM: The aim of the study was to determine the pathways and expression profile of the genes that might predict response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy in patients with stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
MATERIALS AND METHODS: We evaluated, by microarray, the gene-expression profile of tumoral mediastinal lymph node samples surgically removed from 27 patients with stage IIIA NSCLC before neoadjuvant chemotherapy treatment. Depending on the response to the induction treatment, the patients were divided in two groups: group A: patients whose disease evolved, stabilized or who had minor response to chemotherapy, and group B: patients whose disease stabilized or had major response to chemotherapy.
RESULTS: The microarray experiments identified 1,127 genes with a modified expression in the tumoral tissue compared to normal tissue with p≤0.05 and 44 genes with p≤0.01. The identified up-regulated genes between tumoral versus normal tissue included collagen, type I, alpha 1 (COL1A1), inhibin beta A (INHBA) and thioredoxin interacting protein (TXNIP). Pathways identified with a false-discovery rate of <0.005 included: cytokine pathways, focal adhesion or extracellular matrix receptor interaction.
CONCLUSION: Our approach identified important characteristics of NSCLC and pointed-out molecular differences between sub-groups of patients based on their response to therapy.

Yokota M, Kojima M, Higuchi Y, et al.
Gene expression profile in the activation of subperitoneal fibroblasts reflects prognosis of patients with colon cancer.
Int J Cancer. 2016; 138(6):1422-31 [PubMed] Related Publications
Tumors can create a heterogenetic tumor microenvironment. We recently identified the pathologically unique cancer microenvironment formed by peritoneal invasion (CMPI), and revealed that subperitoneal fibroblasts (SPFs) within peritoneal tissue play a crucial role in tumor progression through their interaction with cancer cells. Therefore, the genes in SPFs altered by cancer stimulation may include some biologically important factors associated with patient prognosis. In this study, we aimed to identify new biomarkers using genes specifically upregulated in SPFs by cancer-cell-conditioned medium (CCCM) stimulation (SPFs CCCM response genes; SCR genes) in colon cancer (CC). We constructed two frameworks using SCR gene data: a publicly released microarray dataset, and validation cases with freshly frozen CC samples to identify genes related to short recurrence-free survival (RFS). In the first framework, we selected differentially expressed genes between the high and low SCR gene expression groups. In the second framework, genes significantly related to short RFS were selected by univariate analysis using all SCR genes, and multivariate analysis was performed to select robust genes associated with short RFS. We identified CTGF, CALD1, INHBA and TAGLN in the first framework, and PDLIM5, MAGI1, SPTBN1 and TAGLN in the second framework. Among these seven genes, high expression of three genes (CALD1, TAGLN and SPTBN1) showed a poor prognosis in our validation cases. In a public microarray dataset, SCR gene expression was associated with the expression of ECM component, EMT, and M2-macrophage associated genes, which was concordant with the pathological features of CMPI. Thus, we successfully identified new prognostic factors.

Basu M, Bhattacharya R, Ray U, et al.
Invasion of ovarian cancer cells is induced byPITX2-mediated activation of TGF-β and Activin-A.
Mol Cancer. 2015; 14:162 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
BACKGROUND: Most ovarian cancers are highly invasive in nature and the high burden of metastatic disease make them a leading cause of mortality among all gynaecological malignancies. The homeodomain transcription factor, PITX2 is associated with cancer in different tissues. Our previous studies demonstrated increased PITX2 expression in human ovarian tumours. Growing evidence linking activation of TGF-β pathway by homeodomain proteins prompted us to look for the possible involvement of this signalling pathway in PITX2-mediated progression of ovarian cancer.
METHODS: The status of TGF-β signalling in human ovarian tissues was assessed by immunohistochemistry. The expression level of TGFB/INHBA and other invasion-associated genes was measured by quantitative-PCR (Q-PCR) and Western Blot after transfection/treatments with clones/reagents in normal/cancer cells. The physiological effect of PITX2 on invasion/motility was checked by matrigel invasion and wound healing assay. The PITX2- and activin-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) was evaluated by Q-PCR of respective markers and confocal/phase-contrast imaging of cells.
RESULTS: Human ovarian tumours showed enhanced TGF-β signalling. Our study uncovers the PITX2-induced expression of TGFB1/2/3 as well as INHBA genes (p < 0.01) followed by SMAD2/3-dependent TGF-β signalling pathway. PITX2-induced TGF-β pathway regulated the expression of invasion-associated genes, SNAI1, CDH1 and MMP9 (p < 0.01) that accounted for enhanced motility/invasion of ovarian cancers. Snail and MMP9 acted as important mediators of PITX2-induced invasiveness of ovarian cancer cells. PITX2 over-expression resulted in loss of epithelial markers (p < 0.01) and gain of mesenchymal markers (p < 0.01) that contributed significantly to ovarian oncogenesis. PITX2-induced INHBA expression (p < 0.01) contributed to EMT in both normal and ovarian cancer cells.
CONCLUSIONS: Overall, our findings suggest a significant contributory role of PITX2 in promoting invasive behaviour of ovarian cancer cells through up-regulation of TGFB/INHBA. We have also identified the previously unknown involvement of activin-A in promoting EMT. Our work provides novel mechanistic insights into the invasive behavior of ovarian cancer cells. The extension of this study have the potential for therapeutic applications in future.

Saiag P, Grob JJ, Lebbe C, et al.
Diagnosis and treatment of dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans. European consensus-based interdisciplinary guideline.
Eur J Cancer. 2015; 51(17):2604-8 [PubMed] Related Publications
Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP) is a skin fibroblastic tumour that is locally aggressive, with a tendency for local recurrence, but rarely metastasizes. A unique collaboration of multi-disciplinary experts from the European Dermatology Forum (EDF), the European Association of Dermato-Oncology (EADO) and the European Organization of Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) was formed to make recommendations on DFSP diagnosis and treatment, based on systematic literature reviews and the experts' experience. Diagnosis is suspected clinically and confirmed by pathology. Analysis by fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) or multiplex reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to detect specific chromosomal translocations and fusion gene transcripts is useful to confirm a difficult DFSP diagnosis. Treatment is mainly surgical, with the aim to achieve complete resection of the tumour. In order to reduce the recurrence rate, the treatment of choice of DFSP seems to be Mohs' micrographic surgery (MMS) and related variants. In hospitals where only standard histopathological procedures are available, standard excision with lateral safety margin of 3cm is advisable. Imatinib (Glivec®) is approved in Europe for the treatment of inoperable primary tumours, locally inoperable recurrent disease, and metastatic DFSP. Imatinib has also been given to patients with extensive, difficult-to-operate tumours for preoperative reduction of tumour size, but the usefulness of this attitude should be confirmed by clinical trials. Therapeutic decisions for patients with fibrosarcomatous DFSP should be primarily made by an interdisciplinary oncology team ('tumour board').

De Spiegeleer B, Verbeke F, D'Hondt M, et al.
The quorum sensing peptides PhrG, CSP and EDF promote angiogenesis and invasion of breast cancer cells in vitro.
PLoS One. 2015; 10(3):e0119471 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
The role of the human microbiome on cancer progression remains unclear. Therefore, in this study, we investigated the influence of some quorum sensing peptides, produced by diverse commensal or pathogenic bacteria, on breast cancer cell invasion and thus cancer outcome. Based on microscopy, transcriptome and Chick Chorioallantoic Membrane (CAM) analyses, four peptides (PhrG from B. subtilis, CSP from S. mitis and EDF from E. coli, together with its tripeptide analogue) were found to promote tumour cell invasion and angiogenesis, thereby potentially influencing tumour metastasis. Our results offer not only new insights on the possible role of the microbiome, but also further opportunities in cancer prevention and therapy by competing with these endogenous molecules and/or by modifying people's life style.

Lee HY, Li CC, Huang CN, et al.
INHBA overexpression indicates poor prognosis in urothelial carcinoma of urinary bladder and upper tract.
J Surg Oncol. 2015; 111(4):414-22 [PubMed] Related Publications
BACKGROUND: Urothelial carcinoma (UC) originating from the bladder (UBUC) and upper urinary tract (UTUC) is the most common type of urinary tract tumor. While its pathogenesis remains obscured. Computerizing a published transcriptomic database of UBUC (GSE31684), we identified Inhibin, Beta A (INHBA) as the most significant upregulated gene associated with tumor progression among those associated with growth factor activity (GO:0008083). We therefore analyzed the clinicopathological significance of INHBA expression in UC.
DESIGN: QuantiGene assay was used to detect INHBA transcript level in 36 UTUCs and 30 UBUCs. Immunohistochemistry evaluated by H-score was used to determine INHBA protein expression in 340 UTUCs and 296 UBUCs. INHBA expression was correlated with clinicopathological features and disease-specific survival (DSS) and metastasis-free survival (MeFS).
RESULTS: Increments of INHBA transcript level was associated with higher pT status in both UTUC and UBUC. INHBA protein overexpression was significantly associated with advanced clinicopathological features in both groups of UC. INHBA overexpression significantly implied inferior DSS (UTUC, P = 0.002; UBUC, P = 0.005) and MeFS (UTUC and UBUC, both P < 0.001) in multivariate analysis.
CONCLUSION: INHBA overexpression implies adverse clinical outcomes for UC, justifying it is a potential prognostic biomarker and a novel therapeutic target in UC.

Wamsley JJ, Kumar M, Allison DF, et al.
Activin upregulation by NF-κB is required to maintain mesenchymal features of cancer stem-like cells in non-small cell lung cancer.
Cancer Res. 2015; 75(2):426-35 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
Soluble growth factors and cytokines within the tumor microenvironment aid in the induction of the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Although EMT promotes the development of cancer-initiating cells (CIC), cellular mechanisms by which cancer cells maintain mesenchymal phenotypes remain poorly understood. Work presented here indicates that induction of EMT stimulates non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) to secrete soluble factors that function in an autocrine fashion. Using gene expression profiling of all annotated and predicted secreted gene products, we find that NF-κB activity is required to upregulate INHBA/Activin, a morphogen in the TGFβ superfamily. INHBA is capable of inducing and maintaining mesenchymal phenotypes, including the expression of EMT master-switch regulators and self-renewal factors that sustain CIC phenotypes and promote lung metastasis. Our work demonstrates that INHBA mRNA and protein expression are commonly elevated in primary human NSCLC and provide evidence that INHBA is a critical autocrine factor that maintains mesenchymal properties of CICs to promote metastasis in NSCLC.

Perisé-Barrios AJ, Gómez R, Corbí AL, et al.
Use of carbosilane dendrimer to switch macrophage polarization for the acquisition of antitumor functions.
Nanoscale. 2015; 7(9):3857-66 [PubMed] Related Publications
Tumor microenvironment favors the escape from immunosurveillance by promoting immunosuppression and blunting pro-inflammatory responses. Since most tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) exhibit an M2-like tumor cell growth promoting polarization, we have studied the role of 2G-03NN24 carbosilane dendrimer in M2 macrophage polarization to evaluate the potential application of dendrimers in tumor immunotherapy. We found that the 2G-03NN24 dendrimer decreases LPS-induced IL-10 production from in vitro generated monocyte-derived M2 macrophages, and also switches their gene expression profile towards the acquisition of M1 polarization markers (INHBA, SERPINE1, FLT1, EGLN3 and ALDH1A2) and the loss of M2 polarization-associated markers (EMR1, IGF1, FOLR2 and SLC40A1). Furthermore, 2G-03NN24 dendrimer decreases STAT3 activation. Our results indicate that the 2G-03NN24 dendrimer can be a useful tool for antitumor therapy by virtue of its potential ability to limit the M2-like polarization of TAM.

Ciarmela P, Carrarelli P, Islam MS, et al.
Ulipristal acetate modulates the expression and functions of activin a in leiomyoma cells.
Reprod Sci. 2014; 21(9):1120-5 [PubMed] Related Publications
Uterine leiomyoma is the most common benign gynecological tumor in women of reproductive age and represents the single most common indication for hysterectomy. A development of new treatments is necessary for a medical management, and in this direction, several hormonal drugs are under investigation. Ulipristal acetate (UPA; a selective progesterone receptor modulator) is considered as one of the most promising because progesterone has a critical role in development and growth of uterine leiomyoma. The effect of steroids is partly mediated by growth factors like activin A which increases extracellular matrix expression contributing to the growth of leiomyoma. The present study aimed to test whether UPA acts on leiomyoma cells affecting expression and functions of activin A system. Cultured myometrial and leiomyoma cells were treated with UPA, and messenger RNA (mRNA) expression levels of activin A (inhibin βA [INHBA] subunits), its binding proteins (follistatin [FST] and FST-related gene), and its receptors (activin receptor-like kinase 4 [ALK4], activin receptor type [ActR] II, and ActRIIB) were evaluated. The effect of UPA on activin A modulation of fibronectin and vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A) mRNA expression in cultured myometrial and leiomyoma cells was also studied. Ulipristal acetate decreased INHBA, FST, ActRIIB, and Alk4 mRNA expressions in leiomyoma cultured cells. In addition, UPA was able to block the activin A-induced increase in fibronectin or VEGF-A mRNA expression in myometrial and in leiomyoma cultured cells. The present data show that UPA inhibits activin A expression and functions in leiomyoma cells, and this may represent a possible mechanism of action of the drug on uterine leiomyoma.

Oshima T, Yoshihara K, Aoyama T, et al.
Relation of INHBA gene expression to outcomes in gastric cancer after curative surgery.
Anticancer Res. 2014; 34(5):2303-9 [PubMed] Related Publications
Inhibin-βA (INHBA), a ligand belonging to the transforming growth factor-β superfamily, is associated with cell proliferation in cancer. We studied the relations of INHBA gene expression to clinicopathological factors and outcomes in 168 patients with gastric cancer who underwent curative surgery. Relative INHBA gene expression was measured in surgical specimens of cancer tissue and adjacent normal mucosa by quantitative real-time, reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction. INHBA expression levels were significantly higher in cancer tissue than in adjacent normal mucosa and were related to TNM stage and venous invasion. High INHBA gene expression was associated with significantly poorer 5-year overall survival than was low expression. On multivariate analysis, INHBA gene expression was an independent prognostic factor. Overexpression of the INHBA gene is considered a useful independent predictor of outcomes in patients with gastric cancer after curative surgery.

Hogg K, Robinson WP, Beristain AG
Activation of endocrine-related gene expression in placental choriocarcinoma cell lines following DNA methylation knock-down.
Mol Hum Reprod. 2014; 20(7):677-89 [PubMed] Related Publications
Increasingly, placental DNA methylation is assessed as a factor in pregnancy-related complications, yet the transcriptional impact of such findings is not always clear. Using a proliferative in vitro placental model, the effect of DNA methylation loss on gene activation was evaluated at a number of genes selected for being differentially methylated in pre-eclampsia-associated placentae in vivo. We aimed to determine whether reduced DNA methylation at specific loci was associated with transcriptional changes at the corresponding gene, thus providing mechanistic underpinnings for previous clinical findings and to assess the degree of transcriptional response amongst our candidate genes. BeWo and JEG3 choriocarcinoma cells were exposed to 1 μM 5-Aza-2'-deoxycytidine (5-Aza-CdR) or vehicle control for 48 h, and re-plated and cultured for a further 72 h in normal media before cells were harvested for RNA and DNA. Bisulphite pyrosequencing confirmed that DNA methylation was reduced by ∼30-50% points at the selected loci studied in both cell lines. Gene activation, measured by qRT-PCR, was highly variable and transcript specific, indicating differential sensitivity to DNA methylation. Most notably, loss of DNA methylation at the leptin (LEP) promoter corresponded to a 200-fold and 40-fold increase in LEP expression in BeWo and JEG3 cells, respectively (P < 0.01). Transcripts of steroidogenic pathway enzymes CYP11A1 and HSD3B1 were up-regulated ∼40-fold in response to 5-Aza-CdR exposure in BeWo cells (P < 0.01). Other transcripts, including aromatase (CYP19), HSD11B2, inhibin (INHBA) and glucocorticoid receptor (NR3C1) were more moderately, although significantly, affected by loss of associated DNA methylation. These data present a mixed effect of DNA methylation changes at selected loci supporting cautionary interpretation of DNA methylation results in the absence of functional data.

Pesson M, Volant A, Uguen A, et al.
A gene expression and pre-mRNA splicing signature that marks the adenoma-adenocarcinoma progression in colorectal cancer.
PLoS One. 2014; 9(2):e87761 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
It is widely accepted that most colorectal cancers (CRCs) arise from colorectal adenomas (CRAs), but transcriptomic data characterizing the progression from colorectal normal mucosa to adenoma, and then to adenocarcinoma are scarce. These transition steps were investigated using microarrays, both at the level of gene expression and alternative pre-mRNA splicing. Many genes and exons were abnormally expressed in CRAs, even more than in CRCs, as compared to normal mucosae. Known biological pathways involved in CRC were altered in CRA, but several new enriched pathways were also recognized, such as the complement and coagulation cascades. We also identified four intersectional transcriptional signatures that could distinguish CRAs from normal mucosae or CRCs, including a signature of 40 genes differentially deregulated in both CRA and CRC samples. A majority of these genes had been described in different cancers, including FBLN1 or INHBA, but only a few in CRC. Several of these changes were also observed at the protein level. In addition, 20% of these genes (i.e. CFH, CRYAB, DPT, FBLN1, ITIH5, NR3C2, SLIT3 and TIMP1) showed altered pre-mRNA splicing in CRAs. As a global variation occurring since the CRA stage, and maintained in CRC, the expression and splicing changes of this 40-gene set may mark the risk of cancer occurrence from analysis of CRA biopsies.

Tournier I, Marlin R, Walton K, et al.
Germline mutations of inhibins in early-onset ovarian epithelial tumors.
Hum Mutat. 2014; 35(3):294-7 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
To identify novel genetic bases of early-onset epithelial ovarian tumors, we used the trio exome sequencing strategy in a patient without familial history of cancer who presented metastatic serous ovarian adenocarcinomas at 21 years of age. We identified a single de novo mutation (c.1157A>G/p.Asn386Ser) within the INHBA gene encoding the βA-subunit of inhibins/activins, which play a key role in ovarian development. In vitro, this mutation alters the ratio of secreted activins and inhibins. In a second patient with early-onset serous borderline papillary cystadenoma, we identified an unreported germline mutation (c.179G>T/p.Arg60Leu) of the INHA gene encoding the α-subunit, the partner of the βA-subunit. This mutation also alters the secreted activin/inhibin ratio, by disrupting both inhibin A and inhibin B biosynthesis. In a cohort of 62 cases, we detected an additional unreported germline mutation of the INHBA gene (c.839G>A/p.Gly280Glu). Our results strongly suggest that inhibin mutations contribute to the genetic determinism of epithelial ovarian tumors.

Okano M, Yamamoto H, Ohkuma H, et al.
Significance of INHBA expression in human colorectal cancer.
Oncol Rep. 2013; 30(6):2903-8 [PubMed] Related Publications
Inhibin β A (INHBA) is a member of the transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) superfamily. INHBA expression is associated with several types of human cancers; however, its significance in colorectal cancer (CRC) is not fully understood. INHBA expression was studied in 126 primary CRC samples and 4 CRC cell lines. Cell growth was assessed after inhibition of INHBA expression or after exogenous overexpression of INHBA in CRC tissues. INHBA expression was significantly higher in CRC tissues when compared to that in the corresponding normal tissues (P<0.001). Patients in the high expression group showed a poorer overall survival rate when compared to those in the low expression group (P<0.001); the present study did not evaluate for an independent prognostic factor but showed the significance of lymph node metastasis as an independent prognostic factor. The present study suggests that INHBA is useful as a predictive marker for prognosis in CRC patients.

Ludwig K, Tse ES, Wang JY
Colon cancer cells adopt an invasive phenotype without mesenchymal transition in 3-D but not 2-D culture upon combined stimulation with EGF and crypt growth factors.
BMC Cancer. 2013; 13:221 [PubMed] Article available free on PMC after 01/05/2020 Related Publications
BACKGROUND: The intestinal crypt homeostasis is maintained by a combination of growth factors including Wnt, R-Spondin1, Noggin and the epidermal growth factor (EGF). In human colorectal cancer, the Wnt pathway is constitutively activated through genetic and epigenetic alterations in as many as 11 genes encoding components of this crypt stem-cell maintenance mechanism. Although the proliferation of colon cancer cells does not require Wnt, it is possible that colon cancer cells can still respond to the crypt growth factors in the colonic microenvironment. A number of studies have shown that epithelial cells behave differently in 3-D versus 2-D cultures. Because the 3-D conditions more closely mimic the in vivo environment, we examined the effects of Wnt and other crypt growth factors on colon cancer cell growth in 3-D culture.
METHODS: Colon cancer cells were grown in 3-D matrigel supplemented with different combinations of crypt growth factors and colonies were examined for morphology and pathways.
RESULTS: When colon cancer cells were cultured in 3-D with EGF, they grew as round spheroid colonies. However, colon cancer cells also grew as flat, disc-like colonies when cultured with EGF plus Wnt, R-Spondin1 and Noggin. Disc colonies were found to have comparable levels of E-cadherin as the spheroid colonies, but showed decreased E-cadherin at the cell-matrix contact sites. Disc colonies also elaborated F-actin rich protrusions (FRP) at the cell-matrix edge, reminiscent of an invasive phenotype but without the expression of vimentin. These E-cadherin and F-actin alterations were not induced by the four growth factors in 2-D culture. Formation of the disc colonies was inhibited by the knockdown of β-catenin and by protein kinase inhibitors such as gefitinib, imatinib and MK-2206. Furthermore, withdrawal of the crypt growth factors was able to revert the disc colonies to spheroid growth, showing that the invasive phenotype was reversible dependent on the availability of growth factors.
CONCLUSIONS: These findings show that colon cancer cells remain responsive to the growth factors in the crypt microenvironment and can be induced to undergo morphological transformation in the more physiologically relevant 3-D culture.

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