Background: The homeobox containing transcription factor MSX2 is a key regulator of embryonic development and has been implicated to have a role in breast and pancreatic cancer.
Methods: Using a selection of two- and three-dimensional in vitro assays and tissue microarrays (TMAs), the clinical and functional relevance of MSX2 in malignant melanoma was explored. A doxycyline-inducible over-expression system was applied to study the relevance of MSX2 in vitro. For TMA construction, tumour material from 218 melanoma patients was used.
Results: Ectopic expression of MSX2 resulted in the induction of apoptosis and reduced the invasive capacity of melanoma cells in three-dimensional culture. MSX2 over-expression was shown to affect several signalling pathways associated with cell invasion and survival. Downregulation of N-Cadherin, induction of p21 and inhibition of both BCL2 and Survivin were observed. Cytoplasmic MSX2 expression was found to correlate significantly with increased recurrence-free survival (P=0.008). Nuclear expression of MSX2 did not result in significant survival correlations, suggesting that the beneficial effect of MSX2 may be independent of its DNA binding activity.
Conclusions: MSX2 may be an important regulator of melanoma cell invasion and survival. Cytoplasmic expression of the protein was identified as biomarker for good prognosis in malignant melanoma patients.