Background: Breast cancer (BrCa) is a complex disease driven by aberrant gene alterations and environmental factors. Recent studies reveal that abnormal epigenetic gene regulation also plays an important role in its pathogenesis. Ubiquitin carboxyl- terminal esterase L1 (UCHL1) is a tumor suppressor silenced by promoter methylation in multiple cancers, but its role and alterations in breast tumorigenesis remain unclear.
Methodology/principal findings: We found that UCHL1 was frequently downregulated or silenced in breast cancer cell lines and tumor tissues, but readily expressed in normal breast tissues and mammary epithelial cells. Promoter methylation of UCHL1 was detected in 9 of 10 breast cancer cell lines (90%) and 53 of 66 (80%) primary tumors, but rarely in normal breast tissues, which was statistically correlated with advanced clinical stage and progesterone receptor status. Pharmacologic demethylation reactivated UCHL1 expression along with concomitant promoter demethylation. Ectopic expression of UCHL1 significantly suppressed the colony formation and proliferation of breast tumor cells, through inducing G0/G1 cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Subcellular localization study showed that UCHL1 increased cytoplasmic abundance of p53. We further found that UCHL1 induced p53 accumulation and reduced MDM2 protein level, and subsequently upregulated the expression of p21, as well as cleavage of caspase3 and PARP, but not in catalytic mutant UCHL1 C90S-expressed cells.
Conclusions/significance: UCHL1 exerts its tumor suppressive functions by inducing G0/G1cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in breast tumorigenesis, requiring its deubiquitinase activity. Its frequent silencing by promoter CpG methylation may serve as a potential tumor marker for breast cancer.