Intracellular MUC20 variant 2 maintains mitochondrial calcium homeostasis and enhances drug resistance in gastric cancer

Gastric Cancer. 2022 May;25(3):542-557. doi: 10.1007/s10120-022-01283-z. Epub 2022 Feb 15.


Background: Signet ring cell carcinoma (SRCC) is a particular histologic variant of gastric cancer (GC). However, the critical factor related to the aggressive characteristics of SRCC has not been determined.

Methods: We collected surgically resected tissues from 360 GC patients in the Kumamoto University cohort and generated survival curves via the Kaplan-Meier method. In vitro, we identified the specific transcript variant of MUC20 in SRCC cells by direct sequencing and investigated the role of MUC20 in GC progression using GC cells with MUC20 silencing and forced expression. In vivo, we examined chemoresistance using MUC20 variant 2 (MUC20v2)-overexpressing non-SRCC cells to construct a xenograft mouse model.

Results: We analyzed a comprehensive GC cell line database to identify the specifically expressed genes in gastric SRCC. We focused on MUC20 and investigated its role in GC progression. Survival analysis revealed that GC patients with high MUC20 expression exhibited a poor prognosis and that MUC20 expression was significantly correlated with SRCC histological type. Moreover, we found that gastric SRCC cells specifically expressed MUC20v2, which was dominantly expressed in the cytoplasm. Silencing MUC20v2 caused cell death with characteristic morphological changes in gastric SRCC cells. To further determine the types of cell death, we examined apoptosis, pyroptosis and ferroptosis by detecting cleaved PARP, gasdermin E-N-terminal (GSDME-N), and lipid reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels, respectively. We found that apoptosis and pyroptosis occurred in MUC20-silenced gastric SRCC cells. In addition, MUC20v2-overexpressing GC cells exhibited chemoresistance to cisplatin (CDDP) and paclitaxel (PTX). RNA sequencing revealed that the pathways involved in intracellular calcium regulation were significantly upregulated in MUC20v2-overexpressing GC cells. Notably, forced expression of MUC20v2 in the cytoplasm of GC cells led to the maintenance of mitochondrial calcium homeostasis and mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP), which promoted cell survival and chemoresistance by suppressing apoptosis and pyroptosis. Finally, we investigated the significance of MUC20v2 in a xenograft model treated with CDDP and showed that MUC20v2 overexpression caused chemoresistance by inhibiting cell death.

Conclusion: These findings highlight the novel functions of MUC20v2, which may confer cell survival and drug resistance in GC cells.

Significance: MUC20v2 protects GC cells from apoptosis and pyroptosis by maintaining mitochondrial calcium levels and mitochondrial membrane potential and subsequently induces drug resistance.

Keywords: Drug resistance; Intracellular mucin 20; Mitochondrial calcium homeostasis; Mitochondrial membrane potential; Signet ring cell carcinoma.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Signet Ring Cell* / pathology
  • Cisplatin
  • Drug Resistance
  • Heterografts
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mucins
  • Stomach Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Stomach Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Stomach Neoplasms* / metabolism


  • MUC20 protein, human
  • Mucins
  • Cisplatin
  • Calcium