HOXB9, a transcription factor, plays an important role in development. While HOXB9 has been implicated in tumorigenesis and metastasis, its mechanisms are variable and its role in gastric carcinoma (GC) remains unclear. In the present study, we demonstrated that the expression of HOXB9 decreased in gastric carcinoma and was associated with malignancy and metastasis. Re-expression of HOXB9 in gastric cell lines resulted in the suppression of cell proliferation, migration, and invasion, which was accompanied by the induction of mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition (MET). Comparative sequence analysis and examination of a HOXB9 structural model indicated that three sites might possibly be involved in MET regulation. The in vitro study of HOXB9 mutants showed that these were unable to inhibit MET induction. However, when overexpressing a HOXB9 mutant lacking the hexapeptide motif, a more potent MET induction and tumor suppression was observed compared to that of the wild-type, indicating that the presence of the hexapeptide motif reduced HOXB9 MET induction and tumor suppression activity. Therefore, the results of the present study suggested that HOXB9 is a tumor suppressor in gastric carcinoma, and its activity was controlled by different regulatory mechanisms such as the hexapeptide motif as a "brake" in this case. The results of these regulatory effects could lead to either oncogenic or tumor suppressive roles of HOXB9, depending on the context of the particular type of cancer involved.
Keywords: HOXB9; gastric carcinoma; hexapeptide; mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition.