RNF144A deficiency promotes PD-L1 protein stabilization and carcinogen-induced bladder tumorigenesis

Cancer Lett. 2021 Nov 1;520:344-360. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2021.08.008. Epub 2021 Aug 13.


RNF144A is a DNA damage-induced E3 ubiquitin ligase that targets proteins involved in genome instability for degradation, e.g., DNA-PKcs and BMI1. RNF144A is frequently mutated or epigenetically silenced in cancer, providing the rationale to evaluate RNF144A loss of function in tumorigenesis. Here we report that RNF144A-deficient mice are more prone to the development of bladder tumors upon carcinogen exposure. In addition to DNA-PKcs and BMI1, we identify the immune checkpoint protein PD-L1 as a novel degradation target of RNF144A, since these proteins are expressed at higher levels in Rnf144a KO tumors. RNF144A interacts with PD-L1 in the plasma membrane and intracellular vesicles and promotes poly-ubiquitination and degradation of PD-L1. Therefore, Rnf144a KO stabilizes PD-L1 and leads to a reduction of tumor-infiltrating CD8+ T cell populations in the BBN-induced bladder tumors. The bladder tumors developed in WT and Rnf144a KO mice primarily express CK5 and CK14, markers of basal cancer subtype, as expected in BBN-induced bladder tumors. Intriguingly, the Rnf144a KO tumors also express GATA3, a marker for the luminal subtype, suggesting that RNF144A loss of function promotes features of cellular differentiation. Such differentiation features in Rnf144a KO tumors likely result from a decrease of EGFR expression, consistent with the reported role of RNF144A in maintaining EGFR expression. In summary, for the first time our study demonstrates the in vivo tumor suppressor activity of RNF144A upon carcinogenic insult. Loss of RNF144A promotes the expression of DNA-PKcs, BMI1 and PD-L1, likely contributing to the carcinogen-induced bladder tumorigenesis.

Keywords: BMI1; Bladder cancer; DNA-PKcs; PD-L1; RNF144A.