Background: Pancreatic cancer is characterized by extensive metastasis. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) plasticity plays a critical role in tumor progression and metastasis by maintaining the transition between EMT and mesenchymal-epithelial transition states. Our aim is to understand the molecular events regulating metastasis and EMT plasticity in pancreatic cancer.
Methods: The interactions between a cancer-promoting zinc transporter ZIP4, a zinc-dependent EMT transcriptional factor ZEB1, a coactivator YAP1, and integrin α3 (ITGA3) were examined in human pancreatic cancer cells, clinical specimens, spontaneous mouse models (KPC and KPCZ) and orthotopic xenografts, and 3-dimensional spheroid and organoid models. Correlations between ZIP4, miR-373, and its downstream targets were assessed by RNA in situ hybridization and immunohistochemical staining. The transcriptional regulation of ZEB1, YAP1, and ITGA3 by ZIP4 was determined by chromatin immunoprecipitation, co-immunoprecipitation, and luciferase reporter assays.
Results: The Hippo pathway effector YAP1 is a potent transcriptional coactivator and forms a complex with ZEB1 to activate ITGA3 transcription through the YAP1/transcriptional enhanced associate domain (TEAD) binding sites in human pancreatic cancer cells and KPC-derived mouse cells. ZIP4 upregulated YAP1 expression via activation of miR-373 and inhibition of the YAP1 repressor large tumor suppressor 2 kinase (LATS2). Furthermore, upregulation of ZIP4 promoted EMT plasticity, cell adhesion, spheroid formation, and organogenesis both in human pancreatic cancer cells, 3-dimensional spheroid model, xenograft model, and spontaneous mouse models (KPC and KPCZ) through ZEB1/YAP1-ITGA3 signaling axis.
Conclusion: We demonstrated that ZIP4 activates ZEB1 and YAP1 through distinct mechanisms. The ZIP4-miR-373-LATS2-ZEB1/YAP1-ITGA3 signaling axis has a significant impact on pancreatic cancer metastasis and EMT plasticity.
Keywords: Posttranscriptional Regulation; Transcription Coactivation; Zinc Homeostasis.
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