Forkhead box Q1 (FoxQ1) is a master regulator of tumor metastasis. However, the molecular mechanism of FoxQ1 in regulating hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) metastasis remains unknown. Here we report a novel function for FoxQ1 in modifying the tumor microenvironment to promote HCC metastasis. FoxQ1 expression was an independent and significant risk factor for the recurrence and survival in two independent cohorts totaling 1,002 HCC patients. FoxQ1 induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) through the transactivation of ZEB2 expression by directly binding to the ZEB2 promoter. Knockdown of ZEB2 decreased FoxQ1-enhanced HCC metastasis, whereas up-regulation of ZEB2 rescued the decreased metastasis induced by FoxQ1 knocking down. Additionally, serial deletion, site-directed mutagenesis, and a chromatin immunoprecipitation assays showed that VersicanV1, which promoted HCC metastasis and macrophage attraction, was a direct transcriptional target of FoxQ1. FoxQ1-induced VersicanV1 expression promoted the secretion of chemokine (C-C motif) ligand 2 (CCL2) from HCC cells. Chemotaxis assay showed that the culture media from FoxQ1-overexpressing HCC cells increased the migratory activity of the macrophages. Inhibition of VersicanV1 and CCL2 expression significantly inhibited FoxQ1-mediated macrophage migration. In animal studies, the up-regulation of FoxQ1 in HCC cells promoted HCC metastasis and intratumoral tumor associated macrophage (TAM) infiltration, whereas knockdown of VersicanV1 reduced FoxQ1-mediated HCC metastasis and intratumoral TAM infiltration. Depletion of macrophages using clodronate liposomes dramatically decreased FoxQ1-enhanced HCC metastasis. In human HCC tissues, FoxQ1 expression was positively correlated with ZEB2 and VersicanV1 expression and intratumoral TAM infiltration. Patients with positive coexpression of FoxQ1 and ZEB2, FoxQ1, and VersicanV1, or FoxQ1 and intratumoral TAMs were associated with poorer prognosis.
Conclusion: FoxQ1 promotes HCC metastasis by transactivating ZEB2 and VersicanV1 expression, resulting in the induction of EMT and the recruitment of macrophage infiltration.
© 2014 by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.