ETS1 - an evolutionarily conserved transcription factor involved in the regulation of a number of cellular processes - is overexpressed in several malignancies, including ovarian cancer. Most studies on ETS1 expression have been focused on the transcriptional and RNA levels, with post-translational control mechanisms remaining relatively unexplored in the pathogenesis of malignancies. Here, we show that ETS1 forms a complex with glycogen synthase kinase-3β (GSK3β). Specifically, GSK3β-mediated phosphorylation of ETS1 at threonine 265 and serine 269 promoted protein stability, induced the transcriptional activation of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-9, and increased cell migration. In vivo experiments revealed that a GSK3β inhibitor was able to suppress both endogenous ETS1 expression and induction of MMP-9 expression. Upon generation of a specific antibody against phosphorylated ETS1, we demonstrated that phospho-ETS1 immunohistochemical expression in ovarian cancer specimens was correlated with that of MMP-9. Notably, the cumulative overall survival of patients with low phospho-ETS1 histoscores was significantly longer than that of those showing higher scores. We conclude that the GSK3β/ETS1/MMP-9 axis may regulate the biological aggressiveness of ovarian cancer and can serve as a prognostic factor in patients with this malignancy.
Keywords: ETS1; GSK3β; MMP-9; immunohistochemistry; ovarian cancer.