Tumor metastasis is one of the major causes of high mortality in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Sustained activation of STAT3 signaling plays a critical role in HCC metastasis. RNA binding protein (RBP)-mediated posttranscriptional regulation is involved in the precise control of signal transduction, including STAT3 signaling. In this study, we investigated whether RBPs are important regulators of HCC metastasis. The RBP MEX3C was found to be significantly upregulated in highly metastatic HCC and correlated with poor prognosis in HCC. Mechanistically, MEX3C increased JAK2/STAT3 pathway activity by downregulating SOCS3, a major negative regulator of JAK2/STAT3 signaling. MEX3C interacted with the 3'UTR of SOCS3 and recruited CNOT7 to ubiquitinate and accelerate decay of SOCS3 mRNA. Treatment with MEX3C-specific antisense oligonucleotide significantly inhibited JAK2/STAT3 pathway activation, suppressing HCC migration in vitro and metastasis in vivo. These findings highlight a novel mRNA decay-mediated mechanism for the disruption of SOCS3-driven negative regulation of JAK2/STAT3 signaling, suggesting MEX3C may be a potential prognostic biomarker and promising therapeutic target in HCC.
Significance: This study reveals that RNA-binding protein MEX3C induces SOCS3 mRNA decay to promote JAK2/STAT3 activation and tumor metastasis in hepatocellular carcinoma, identifying MEX3C targeting as a potential approach for treating metastatic disease.
©2022 American Association for Cancer Research.