Alterations in microRNA (miRNA) profiles, induced by tumor microenvironment stressors, like hypoxia, allow cancer cells to acquire immune-resistance phenotypes. Indeed, hypoxia-induced miRNAs have been implicated in cancer progression through numerous cancer cell non-autonomous mechanisms, including the direct transfer of hypoxia-responsive miRNA from cancer to immune cells via extracellular vesicles. Connexin-43 (Cx43)-constituted gap junctions (GJs) have also been involved in miRNA intercellular mobilization, in other biological processes. In this report, we aimed to evaluate the involvement of Cx43-GJs in the shift of miRNAs induced by hypoxia, from hypoxic melanoma cells to dendritic cells and melanoma-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). Using qRT-PCR arrays, we identified that miR-192-5p was strongly induced in hypoxic melanoma cells. Immune cells acquired this miRNA after co-culture with hypoxic melanoma cells. The transfer of miR-192-5p was inhibited when hypoxic melanoma cells expressed a dominant negative Cx43 mutant or when Cx43 expression was silenced using specific short-hairpin RNAs. Interestingly, miR-192-5p levels on CTLs after co-culture with hypoxic melanoma cells were inversely correlated with the cytotoxic activity of T cells and with ZEB2 mRNA expression, a validated immune-related target of miR-192-5p, which is also observed in vivo. Altogether, our data suggest that hypoxic melanoma cells may suppress CTLs cytotoxic activity by transferring hypoxia-induced miR-192-5p through a Cx43-GJs driven mechanism, constituting a resistance strategy for immunological tumor escape.
Keywords: connexin-43; cytotoxic T lymphocytes; dendritic cells; hypoxia; map junctions; melanoma; miR-192; microRNAs; zeb2.