Hypoxia promotes Rab5 activation, leading to tumor cell migration, invasion and metastasis

Oncotarget. 2016 May 17;7(20):29548-62. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.8794.


Hypoxia, a common condition of the tumor microenvironment, is associated with poor patient prognosis, tumor cell migration, invasion and metastasis. Recent evidence suggests that hypoxia alters endosome dynamics in tumor cells, leading to augmented cell proliferation and migration and this is particularly relevant, because endosomal components have been shown to be deregulated in cancer. The early endosome protein Rab5 is a small GTPase that promotes integrin trafficking, focal adhesion turnover, Rac1 activation, tumor cell migration and invasion. However, the role of Rab5 and downstream events in hypoxia remain unknown. Here, we identify Rab5 as a critical player in hypoxia-driven tumor cell migration, invasion and metastasis. Exposure of A549 human lung carcinoma, ZR-75, MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 human breast cancer and B16-F10 mouse melanoma cells to hypoxia increased Rab5 activation, followed by its re-localization to the leading edge and association with focal adhesions. Importantly, Rab5 was required for hypoxia-driven cell migration, FAK phosphorylation and Rac1 activation, as shown by shRNA-targeting and transfection assays with Rab5 mutants. Intriguingly, the effect of hypoxia on both Rab5 activity and migration was substantially higher in metastatic B16-F10 cells than in poorly invasive B16-F0 cells. Furthermore, exogenous expression of Rab5 in B16-F0 cells predisposed to hypoxia-induced migration, whereas expression of the inactive mutant Rab5/S34N prevented the migration of B16-F10 cells induced by hypoxia. Finally, using an in vivo syngenic C57BL/6 mouse model, Rab5 expression was shown to be required for hypoxia-induced metastasis. In summary, these findings identify Rab5 as a key mediator of hypoxia-induced tumor cell migration, invasion and metastasis.

Keywords: Rab5; hypoxia; metastasis; migration; tumor.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • rab5 GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism*


  • rab5 GTP-Binding Proteins