NKX6-1 mediates cancer stem-like properties and regulates sonic hedgehog signaling in leiomyosarcoma

J Biomed Sci. 2021 Apr 27;28(1):32. doi: 10.1186/s12929-021-00726-6.


Background: Leiomyosarcoma (LMS), the most common soft tissue sarcoma, exhibits heterogeneous and complex genetic karyotypes with severe chromosomal instability and rearrangement and poor prognosis.

Methods: Clinical variables associated with NKX6-1 were obtained from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). NKX6-1 mRNA expression was examined in 49 human uterine tissues. The in vitro effects of NXK6-1 in LMS cells were determined by reverse transcriptase PCR, western blotting, colony formation, spheroid formation, and cell viability assays. In vivo tumor growth was evaluated in nude mice.

Results: Using The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and human uterine tissue datasets, we observed that NKX6-1 expression was associated with poor prognosis and malignant potential in LMS. NKX6-1 enhanced in vitro tumor cell aggressiveness via upregulation of cell proliferation and anchorage-independent growth and promoted in vivo tumor growth. Moreover, overexpression and knockdown of NKX6-1 were associated with upregulation and downregulation, respectively, of stem cell transcription factors, including KLF8, MYC, and CD49F, and affected sphere formation, chemoresistance, NOTCH signaling and Sonic hedgehog (SHH) pathways in human sarcoma cells. Importantly, treatment with an SHH inhibitor (RU-SKI 43) but not a NOTCH inhibitor (DAPT) reduced cell survival in NKX6-1-expressing cancer cells, indicating that an SHH inhibitor could be useful in treating LMS. Finally, using the TCGA dataset, we demonstrated that LMS patients with high expression of NKX6-1 and HHAT, an SHH pathway acyltransferase, had poorer survival outcomes compared to those without.

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that NKX6-1 and HHAT play critical roles in the pathogenesis of LMS and could be promising diagnostic and therapeutic targets for LMS patients.

Keywords: Chemoresistance; Leiomyosarcoma (LMS); NK6 homeobox 1 (NKX6-1); SHH inhibitor; Sonic hedgehog (SHH) signaling.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Survival
  • Hedgehog Proteins / genetics*
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Leiomyosarcoma / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • NKX6-1 protein, human
  • SHH protein, human