SPINK1 Promotes Colorectal Cancer Progression by Downregulating Metallothioneins Expression

Oncogenesis. 2015 Aug 10;4(8):e162. doi: 10.1038/oncsis.2015.23.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer in the world, and second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. Although, anti-EGFR therapy is commonly prescribed for CRC, patients harboring mutations in KRAS or BRAF show poor treatment response, indicating an ardent demand for new therapeutic targets discovery. SPINK1 (serine peptidase inhibitor, Kazal type 1) overexpression has been identified in many cancers including the colon, lung, breast and prostate. Our study demonstrates the functional significance of SPINK1 in CRC progression and metastases. Stable knockdown of SPINK1 significantly decreases cell proliferation, invasion and soft agar colony formation in the colon adenocarcinoma WiDr cells. Conversely, an increase in these oncogenic phenotypes was observed on stimulation with SPINK1-enriched conditioned media (CM) in multiple benign models such as murine colonic epithelial cell lines, MSIE and YAMC (SPINK3-negative). Mechanistically, SPINK1 promotes tumorigenic phenotype by activating phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K/AKT) and mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (MAPK/ERK) signaling pathways, and the SPINK1-positive WiDr cells are sensitive to AKT and MEK inhibitors. Importantly, SPINK1 silencing mediated upregulation of various Metallothionein isoforms, considered as tumor suppressors in CRC, confer sensitivity to doxorubicin, which strengthens the rationale for using the combinatorial treatment approach for the SPINK1-positive CRC patients. Furthermore, in vivo studies using chicken chorioallantoic membrane assay, murine xenograft studies and metastasis models further suggest a pivotal role of SPINK1 in CRC progression and metastasis. Taken together, our study demonstrates an important role for the overexpressed SPINK1 in CRC disease progression, a phenomenon that needs careful evaluation towards effective therapeutic target development.