Introduction: Despite intensive study of the mechanisms of chemotherapeutic drug resistance in human breast cancer, few reports have systematically investigated the mechanisms that underlie resistance to the chemotherapy-sensitizing agent tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha. Additionally, the relationship between TNF-alpha resistance mediated by MEK5/Erk5 signaling and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process associated with promotion of invasion, metastasis, and recurrence in breast cancer, has not previously been investigated.
Methods: To compare differences in the proteome of the TNF-alpha resistant MCF-7 breast cancer cell line MCF-7-MEK5 (in which TNF-alpha resistance is mediated by MEK5/Erk5 signaling) and its parental TNF-a sensitive MCF-7 cell line MCF-7-VEC, two-dimensional gel electrophoresis and high performance capillary liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry approaches were used. Differential protein expression was verified at the transcriptional level using RT-PCR assays. An EMT phenotype was confirmed using immunofluorescence staining and gene expression analyses. A short hairpin RNA strategy targeting Erk5 was utilized to investigate the requirement for the MEK/Erk5 pathway in EMT.
Results: Proteomic analyses and PCR assays were used to identify and confirm differential expression of proteins. In MCF-7-MEK5 versus MCF-7-VEC cells, vimentin (VIM), glutathione-S-transferase P (GSTP1), and creatine kinase B-type (CKB) were upregulated, and keratin 8 (KRT8), keratin 19 (KRT19) and glutathione-S-transferase Mu 3 (GSTM3) were downregulated. Morphology and immunofluorescence staining for E-cadherin and vimentin revealed an EMT phenotype in the MCF-7-MEK5 cells. Furthermore, EMT regulatory genes SNAI2 (slug), ZEB1 (delta-EF1), and N-cadherin (CDH2) were upregulated, whereas E-cadherin (CDH1) was downregulated in MCF-7-MEK5 cells versus MCF-7-VEC cells. RNA interference targeting of Erk5 reversed MEK5-mediated EMT gene expression.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that MEK5 over-expression promotes a TNF-alpha resistance phenotype associated with distinct proteomic changes (upregulation of VIM/vim, GSTP1/gstp1, and CKB/ckb; and downregulation of KRT8/krt8, KRT19/krt19, and GSTM3/gstm3). We further demonstrate that MEK5-mediated progression to an EMT phenotype is dependent upon intact Erk5 and associated with upregulation of SNAI2 and ZEB1 expression.