Background: Androgen signaling plays a critical role in the development of prostate cancer and its progression. However, androgen-independent prostate cancer cells emerge after hormone ablation therapy, resulting in significant clinical problems. We have previously demonstrated that the HOXB13 homeodomain protein functions as a prostate cancer cell growth suppressor by inhibiting androgen-mediated signals. However, the role of the HOXB13 in androgen-independent growth of prostate cancer cells remains unexplained.
Results: In this report, we first demonstrated that HOXB13 was highly overexpressed in hormone-refractory tumors compared to tumors without prostate-specific antigen after initial treatment. Functionally, in an androgen-free environment minimal induction of HOXB13 in LNCaP prostate cancer cells, to the level of the normal prostate, markedly promoted cell proliferation while suppression inhibited cell proliferation. The HOXB13-mediated cell growth promotion in the absence of androgen, appears to be mainly accomplished through the activation of RB-E2F signaling by inhibiting the expression of the p21waf tumor suppressor. Indeed, forced expression of HOXB13 dramatically decreased expression of p21waf; this inhibition largely affected HOXB13-mediated promotion of E2F signaling.
Conclusions: Taken together, the results of this study demonstrated the presence of a novel pathway that helps understand androgen-independent survival of prostate cancer cells. These findings suggest that upregulation of HOXB13 is associated with an additive growth advantage of prostate cancer cells in the absence of or low androgen concentrations, by the regulation of p21-mediated E2F signaling.