Differential regulation of autophagy by STAU1 in alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma and non-transformed skeletal muscle cells

Cell Oncol (Dordr). 2021 Apr 26. doi: 10.1007/s13402-021-00607-y. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: Recent work has highlighted the therapeutic potential of targeting autophagy to modulate cell survival in a variety of diseases including cancer. Recently, we found that the RNA-binding protein Staufen1 (STAU1) is highly expressed in alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS) and that this abnormal expression promotes tumorigenesis. Here, we asked whether STAU1 is involved in the regulation of autophagy in ARMS cells.

Methods: We assessed the impact of STAU1 expression modulation in ARMS cell lines (RH30 and RH41), non-transformed skeletal muscle cells (C2C12) and STAU1-transgenic mice using complementary techniques.

Results: We found that STAU1 silencing reduces autophagy in the ARMS cell lines RH30 and RH41, while increasing their apoptosis. Mechanistically, this inhibitory effect was found to be caused by a direct negative impact of STAU1 depletion on the stability of Beclin-1 (BECN1) and ATG16L1 mRNAs, as well as by an indirect inhibition of JNK signaling via increased expression of Dual specificity phosphatase 8 (DUSP8). Pharmacological activation of JNK or expression silencing of DUSP8 was sufficient to restore autophagy in STAU1-depleted cells. By contrast, we found that STAU1 downregulation in non-transformed skeletal muscle cells activates autophagy in a mTOR-dependent manner, without promoting apoptosis. A similar effect was observed in skeletal muscles obtained from STAU1-overexpressing transgenic mice.

Conclusions: Together, our data indicate an effect of STAU1 on autophagy regulation in ARMS cells and its differential role in non-transformed skeletal muscle cells. Our findings suggest a cancer-specific potential of targeting STAU1 for the treatment of ARMS.

Keywords: Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma; Autophagy; JNK; Staufen1; mTOR.