Aims: The metastasis suppressor gene, N-myc downstream regulated gene-1 (NDRG1), is negatively correlated with tumor progression in multiple neoplasms, including pancreatic cancer. Moreover, NDRG1 is an iron-regulated gene that is markedly upregulated by cellular iron-depletion using novel antitumor agents such as the chelator, di-2-pyridylketone 4,4-dimethyl-3-thiosemicarbazone (Dp44mT), in pancreatic cancer cells. However, the exact function(s) of NDRG1 remain to be established and are important to elucidate.
Results: In the current study, using gene-array analysis along with NDRG1 overexpression and silencing, we identified the molecular targets of NDRG1 in three pancreatic cancer cell lines. We demonstrate that NDRG1 upregulates neural precursor cell expressed developmentally downregulated 4-like (NEDD4L) and GLI-similar-3 (GLIS3). Further studies examining the downstream effects of NEDD4L led to the discovery that NDRG1 affects the transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) pathway, leading to the upregulation of two key tumor suppressor proteins, namely phosphatase and tensin homolog deleted on chromosome 10 (PTEN) and mothers against decapentaplegic homolog-4 (SMAD4). Moreover, NDRG1 inhibited the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) and Ras oncogenic pathways.
Innovation: This study provides significant insights into the mechanisms underlying the antitumor activity of NDRG1. For the first time, a role for NDRG1 is established in regulating the key signaling pathways involved in oncogenesis (TGF-β, PI3K, and Ras pathways).
Conclusion: The identified target genes of NDRG1 and their effect on the TGF-β signaling pathway reveal its molecular function in pancreatic cancer and a novel therapeutic avenue.