Tumor cells metastasize to distant organs through genetic and epigenetic alterations, including changes in microRNA (miR) expression. Here we find miR-22 triggers epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), enhances invasiveness and promotes metastasis in mouse xenografts. In a conditional mammary gland-specific transgenic (TG) mouse model, we show that miR-22 enhances mammary gland side-branching, expands the stem cell compartment, and promotes tumor development. Critically, miR-22 promotes aggressive metastatic disease in MMTV-miR-22 TG mice, as well as compound MMTV-neu or -PyVT-miR-22 TG mice. We demonstrate that miR-22 exerts its metastatic potential by silencing antimetastatic miR-200 through direct targeting of the TET (Ten eleven translocation) family of methylcytosine dioxygenases, thereby inhibiting demethylation of the mir-200 promoter. Finally, we show that miR-22 overexpression correlates with poor clinical outcomes and silencing of the TET-miR-200 axis in patients. Taken together, our findings implicate miR-22 as a crucial epigenetic modifier and promoter of EMT and breast cancer stemness toward metastasis.
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