Epithelial squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) most commonly originate in the skin, where they display disruptions in the normally tightly regulated homeostatic balance between keratinocyte proliferation and terminal differentiation. We performed a transcriptome-wide screen for genes of unknown function that possess inverse expression patterns in differentiating keratinocytes compared with cutaneous SCC (cSCC), leading to the identification of MAB21L4 (C2ORF54) as an enforcer of terminal differentiation that suppresses carcinogenesis. Loss of MAB21L4 in human cSCC organoids increased expression of RET to enable malignant progression. In addition to transcriptional upregulation of RET, deletion of MAB21L4 preempted recruitment of the CacyBP-Siah1 E3 ligase complex to RET and reduced its ubiquitylation. In SCC organoids and in vivo tumor models, genetic disruption of RET or selective inhibition of RET with BLU-667 (pralsetinib) suppressed SCC growth while inducing concomitant differentiation. Overall, loss of MAB21L4 early during SCC development blocks differentiation by increasing RET expression. These results suggest that targeting RET activation is a potential therapeutic strategy for treating SCC.
Significance: Downregulation of RET mediated by MAB21L4-CacyBP interaction is required to induce epidermal differentiation and suppress carcinogenesis, suggesting RET inhibition as a potential therapeutic approach in squamous cell carcinoma.
©2022 American Association for Cancer Research.