nc886 is a regulatory non-coding RNA (ncRNA) whose expression is frequently silenced in malignancies. In the case of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), nc886 silencing is associated with shorter survival of patients, suggesting nc886's tumor suppressor role in ESCC. However, this observation has not been complemented by an in-detail study about nc886's impact on gene expression and cellular phenotypes. Here we have shown that nc886 inhibits AKT, a key protein in a renowned pro-survival pathway in cancer. nc886-silenced cells (nc886- cells) have activated AKT and altered expression of cell cycle genes. nc886- cells tend to have lower expression of CDKN2A and CDKN2C, both of which are inhibitors for cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK), and higher expression of CDK4 than nc886-expressing cells. As a result, nc886- cells are hyperactive in the progression of the G1 to S cell cycle phase, proliferate faster, and are more sensitive to palbociclib, which is a cancer therapeutic drug that targets CDK4/6. Experimentally by nc886 expression and knockdown, we have determined the AKT target genes and cell cycle genes that are controlled by nc886 (nc886-associated gene sets). These gene sets, in combination with pathologic staging and nc886 expression levels, are a vastly superior predictor for the survival of 108 ESCC patients. In summary, our study has elucidated in ESCC how nc886 inhibits cell proliferation to explain its tumor suppressor role and identified gene sets that are of future clinical utility, by predicting patient survival and responsiveness to a therapeutic drug.
Keywords: AKT; cell cycle; esophageal cancer; nc886; prognosis.