N-cadherin is a neural cell adhesion molecule that aberrantly occurs in head and neck cancers to promote cancer cell growth. However, the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Here we report that N-cadherin increases cancer cell growth by inhibiting apoptosis. Apoptosis eliminates old, unnecessary, and unhealthy cells. However, tumor cells have the ability of avoiding apoptosis that increases cancer cell growth. Recent studies have found that tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) selectively induces apoptosis in tumor cells by reacting with four distinct cell surface receptors: TRAIL-R1 (DR-4), TRAIL-R2 (DR-5), TRAIL-R3 (DcR-1), and TRAIL-R4 (DcR-2). Among these TRAIL receptors, the death receptors DR-4 and DR-5 transmit apoptotic signals owing to the death domain in the intracellular portion. Conversely, the decoy receptors DcR-1 and DcR-2 lack a complete intracellular portion, so neither can transmit apoptotic signals. DcR-1 or DcR-2 overexpression suppresses TRAIL-induced apoptosis. In this study, N-cadherin overexpression increased DcR-2 expression and decreased DR-5 expression. In contrast, knockdown of N-cadherin expression upregulated DR-5 expression and downregulated DcR-2 expression. A significantly positive relationship between N-cadherin and DcR-2 expression was also found in HNSCC specimens. Those specimens with a lower apoptotic index showed a higher expression of N-cadherin and/or DcR-2. In addition, we demonstrated that N-cadherin interacts directly with DcR-2. Notably, DcR-2 induces cancer cell survival through the cleavage of caspases and PARP by activating MAPK/ERK pathway and suppressing NF-kB/ p65 phosphorylation, which has a very important role in resistance to chemotherapy.
Keywords: DR-5, DcR-2; N-cadherin; anti-apoptosis; death receptors.