BIRC7 promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition and metastasis in papillary thyroid carcinoma through restraining autophagy

Am J Cancer Res. 2020 Jan 1;10(1):78-94. eCollection 2020.


Papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) is the most common cancer of the endocrine system, which is usually associated with a favorable therapeutic response and prognosis. However, metastatic spreading occurs in around 5% of the PTC patients. Identification of molecular markers could early predict the metastatic potential, which is essential for reducing the patient's overtreatment. Baculoviral IAP Repeat Containing 7 (BIRC7) is an inhibitor of apoptosis protein (IAP) family gene that is known to be linked to tumor progression, but its role in the setting of PTC metastasis remains unknown. This study, therefore, aims to explore the role of BIRC7 in the metastasis and autophagy of PTC and elucidate its underlying molecular mechanisms. BIRC7 expression was assessed in fresh samples of human PTC and normal tissues via qRT-PCR and immunohistochemistry. In addition, BIRC7 was overexpressed and silenced in PTC cell lines followed by transmission electron microscopy, western blotting, immunofluorescence microscopy, wound healing and invasion assays. We further explored the relevance of BIRC7 in vivo using a tumor xenograft model. Our results demonstrated that BIRC7 plays a pro-invasive role in PTC. BIRC7 expression is significantly upregulated in PTC compared with matched thyroid normal tissues. In addition, we found that BIRC7 knockdown induced a significant reduction in PTC cell EMT and metastasis in vitro and in vivo, while overexpression of BIRC7 markedly enhanced PTC cell migration and invasion. Moreover, our data showed that BIRC7 was able to suppress autophagy through modulating the expression of ATG5 and BECN1, and that this suppression is responsible for BIRC7 silence induced suppression of EMT and metastasis of PTC cell. We further found that targeting both BIRC7 and mTOR enhances autophagy in PTC cells and to achieve synergistic antimetastatic efficacy in vitro and in vivo. These findings indicate that the suppression of autophagy by BIRC7 drives the invasion and metastasis of PTC cells, thus suggesting that the activation of autophagy may inhibit metastasis of PTC with high BIRC7 expression.

Keywords: BIRC7; EMT; autophagy; metastasis; papillary thyroid carcinoma.