Squalene epoxidase promotes colorectal cancer cell proliferation through accumulating calcitriol and activating CYP24A1-mediated MAPK signaling

Cancer Commun (Lond). 2021 Jul 16. doi: 10.1002/cac2.12187. Online ahead of print.


Background: Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most malignant tumors with high incidence, yet its molecular mechanism is not fully understood, hindering the development of targeted therapy. Metabolic abnormalities are a hallmark of cancer. Targeting dysregulated metabolic features has become an important direction for modern anticancer therapy. In this study, we aimed to identify a new metabolic enzyme that promotes proliferation of CRC and to examine the related molecular mechanisms.

Methods: We performed RNA sequencing and tissue microarray analyses of human CRC samples to identify new genes involved in CRC. Squalene epoxidase (SQLE) was identified to be highly upregulated in CRC patients. The regulatory function of SQLE in CRC progression and the therapeutic effect of SQLE inhibitors were determined by measuring CRC cell viability, colony and organoid formation, intracellular cholesterol concentration and xenograft tumor growth. The molecular mechanism of SQLE function was explored by combining transcriptome and untargeted metabolomics analysis. Western blotting and real-time PCR were used to assess MAPK signaling activation by SQLE.

Results: SQLE-related control of cholesterol biosynthesis was highly upregulated in CRC patients and associated with poor prognosis. SQLE promoted CRC growth in vitro and in vivo. Inhibition of SQLE reduced the levels of calcitriol (active form of vitamin D3) and CYP24A1, followed by an increase in intracellular Ca2+ concentration. Subsequently, MAPK signaling was suppressed, resulting in the inhibition of CRC cell growth. Consistently, terbinafine, an SQLE inhibitor, suppressed CRC cell proliferation and organoid and xenograft tumor growth.

Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate that SQLE promotes CRC through the accumulation of calcitriol and stimulation of CYP24A1-mediated MAPK signaling, highlighting SQLE as a potential therapeutic target for CRC treatment.

Keywords: CYP24A1; MAPK signaling; calcitriol; cell proliferation; cholesterol biosynthesis; colorectal cancer; squalene epoxidase; terbinafine.