Background: The transcription factor STAT3 (signal transducer and activator of transcription 3) is frequently activated in tumor cells. Activated STAT3 forms homodimers, or heterodimers with other TFs such as NF-κB, which becomes activated. Cytoplasmic STAT3 dimers are activated by tyrosine phosphorylation; they interact with importins via a nuclear localization signal (NLS) one of which is located within the DNA-binding domain formed by the dimer. In the nucleus, STAT3 regulates target gene expression by binding a consensus sequence within the promoter. STAT3-specific decoy oligonucleotides (STAT3-decoy ODN) that contain this consensus sequence inhibit the transcriptional activity of STAT3, leading to cell death; however, their mechanism of action is unclear.
Results: The mechanism of action of a STAT3-decoy ODN was analyzed in the colon carcinoma cell line SW 480. These cells' dependence on activated STAT3 was verified by showing that cell death is induced by STAT3-specific siRNAs or Stattic. STAT3-decoy ODN was shown to bind activated STAT3 within the cytoplasm, and to prevent its translocation to the nucleus, as well as that of STAT3-associated NF-κB, but it did not prevent the nuclear transfer of STAT3 with mutations in its DNA-binding domain. The complex formed by STAT3 and the STAT3-decoy ODN did not associate with importin, while STAT3 alone was found to co-immunoprecipitate with importin. Leptomycin B and vanadate both trap STAT3 in the nucleus. They were found here to oppose the cytoplasmic trapping of STAT3 by the STAT3-decoy ODN. Control decoys consisting of either a mutated STAT3-decoy ODN or a NF-κB-specific decoy ODN had no effect on STAT3 nuclear translocation. Finally, blockage of STAT3 nuclear transfer correlated with the induction of SW 480 cell death.
Conclusions: The inhibition of STAT3 by a STAT3-decoy ODN, leading to cell death, involves the entrapment of activated STAT3 dimers in the cytoplasm. A mechanism is suggested whereby this entrapment is due to STAT3-decoy ODN's inhibition of active STAT3/importin interaction. These observations point to the high potential of STAT3-decoy ODN as a reagent and to STAT3 nucleo-cytoplasmic shuttling in tumor cells as a potential target for effective anti-cancer compounds.