Long non-coding RNA MAPKAPK5-AS1/PLAGL2/HIF-1α signaling loop promotes hepatocellular carcinoma progression

J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2021 Feb 17;40(1):72. doi: 10.1186/s13046-021-01868-z.


Background: Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are widely involved in human cancers' progression by regulating tumor cells' various malignant behaviors. MAPKAPK5-AS1 has been recognized as an oncogene in colorectal cancer. However, the biological role of MAPKAPK5-AS1 in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has not been explored.

Methods: Quantitative real-time PCR was performed to detect the level of MAPKAPK5-AS1 in HCC tissues and cell lines. The effects of MAPKAPK5-AS1 on tumor growth and metastasis were assessed via in vitro experiments, including MTT, colony formation, EdU, flow cytometry, transwell assays, and nude mice models. The western blotting analysis was carried out to determine epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) markers and AKT signaling. The interaction between MAPKAPK5-AS1, miR-154-5p, and PLAGL2 were explored by luciferase reporter assay and RNA immunoprecipitation. The regulatory effect of HIF-1α on MAPKAPK5-AS1 was evaluated by chromatin immunoprecipitation.

Results: MAPKAPK5-AS1 expression was significantly elevated in HCC, and its overexpression associated with malignant clinical features and reduced survival. Functionally, MAPKAPK5-AS1 knockdown repressed the proliferation, mobility, and EMT of HCC cells and induced apoptosis. Ectopic expression of MAPKAPK5-AS1 contributed to HCC cell proliferation and invasion in vitro. Furthermore, MAPKAPK5-AS1 silencing suppressed, while MAPKAPK5-AS1 overexpression enhanced HCC growth and lung metastasis in vivo. Mechanistically, MAPKAPK5-AS1 upregulated PLAG1 like zinc finger 2 (PLAGL2) expression by acting as an endogenous competing RNA (ceRNA) to sponge miR-154-5p, thereby activating EGFR/AKT signaling. Importantly, rescue experiments demonstrated that the miR-154-5p/PLAGL2 axis mediated the function of MAPKAPK5-AS1 in HCC cells. Interestingly, we found that hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α), a transcript factor, could directly bind to the promoter to activate MAPKAPK5-AS1 transcription. MAPKAPK5-AS1 regulated HIF-1α expression through PLAGL2 to form a hypoxia-mediated MAPKAPK5-AS1/PLAGL2/HIF-1α signaling loop in HCC.

Conclusions: Our results reveal a MAPKAPK5-AS1/PLAGL2/HIF-1α signaling loop in HCC progression and suggest that MAPKAPK5-AS1 could be a potential novel therapeutic target of HCC.

Keywords: Hepatocellular carcinoma progression; Hypoxia; MAPKAPK5-AS1; PLAGL2; miR-154-5p.