Acquired chemoresistance is a major challenge in cancer therapy. While the oncoprotein Mucin-1 (MUC1) performs multiple roles in the development of diverse human tumors, whether MUC1 is involved in acquired chemoresistance has not been determined. Using an acquired chemoresistance lung cancer cell model, we show that MUC1 expression was substantially increased in cells with acquired apoptosis resistance (AR). Knockdown of MUC1 expression effectively increased the sensitivity of these cells to the apoptotic cytotoxicity of anticancer therapeutics, suggesting that MUC1 contributes to acquired chemoresistance. Decreased catalase expression and increased cellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulation were found to be associated with MUC1 overexpression. Scavenging ROS with butylated hydroxyanisole or supplying exogenous catalase dramatically suppressed MUC1 expression through destabilizing MUC1 protein, suggesting that reduced catalase expression mediated ROS accumulation is accounted for MUC1 overexpression. Further, we found that increased miR-551b expression in the AR cells inhibited the expression of catalase and potentiated ROS accumulation and MUC1 expression. Finally, by manipulating MUC1 expression, we found that MUC1 promotes EGFR-mediated activation of the cell survival cascade involving Akt/c-FLIP/COX-2 in order to protect cancer cells from responding to anticancer agents. Thus, our results establish a pathway consisting of miR-551b/catalase/ROS that results in MUC1 overexpression, and intervention against this pathway could be exploited to overcome acquired chemoresistance.
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