Recent evidence suggests that the expression of brachyury is necessary for chordoma growth. However, the mechanism associated with brachyury-regulated cell growth is poorly understood. Fibroblast growth factor (FGF), a regulator of brachyury expression in normal tissue, may also play an important role in chordoma pathophysiology. Using a panel of chordoma cell lines, we explored the role of FGF signaling and brachyury in cell growth and survival. Western blots showed that all chordoma cell lines expressed fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 (FGFR2), FGFR3, mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK) and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), whereas no cell lines expressed FGFR1 and FGFR4. Results of enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay indicated that chordoma cells produced FGF2. Neutralization of FGF2 inhibited MEK/ERK phosphorylation, decreased brachyury expression and induced apoptosis while reducing cell growth. Activation of the FGFR/MEK/ERK/brachyury pathway by FGF2-initiated phosphorylation of FGFR substrate 2 (FRS2)-α (Tyr196) prevented apoptosis while promoting cell growth and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Immunofluorescence staining showed that FGF2 promoted the translocation of phosphorylated ERK to the nucleus and increased brachyury expression. The selective inhibition of FGFR, MEK and ERK phosphorylation by PD173074, PD0325901 and PD184352, respectively, decreased brachyury expression, induced apoptosis, and inhibited cell growth and EMT. Moreover, knockdown of brachyury by small hairpin RNA reduced FGF2 secretion, inhibited FGFR/MEK/ERK phosphorylation and blocked the effects of FGF2 on cell growth, apoptosis and EMT. Those findings highlight that FGFR/MEK/ERK/brachyury pathway coordinately regulates chordoma cell growth and survival and may represent a novel chemotherapeutic target for chordoma.
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