Background: Activin A is a multi-functional cytokine belonging to the transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) superfamily; however, the effect of activin A on angiogenesis remains largely unclear. We found that inhibin β A subunit (INHBA) mRNA is overexpressed in gastric cancer (GC) specimens and investigated the effect of activin A, a homodimer of INHBA, on angiogenesis in GC.
Methods: Anti-angiogenic effects of activin A via p21 induction were evaluated using human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) in vitro and a stable INHBA-introduced GC cell line in vivo.
Results: Compared with TGF-β, activin A potently inhibited the cellular proliferation and tube formation of HUVECs with induction of p21. A promoter assay and a chromatin immunoprecipitation assay revealed that activin A directly regulates p21 transcriptional activity through Smads. Stable p21-knockdown significantly enhanced the cellular proliferation of HUVECs. Notably, stable p21-knockdown exhibited a resistance to activin-mediated growth inhibition in HUVECs, indicating that p21 induction has a key role on activin A-mediated growth inhibition in vascular endothelial cells. Finally, a stable INHBA-introduced GC cell line exhibited a decrease in tumour growth and angiogenesis in vivo.
Conclusion: Our findings highlight the suppressive role of activin A, unlike TGF-β, on tumour growth and angiogenesis in GC.