The prognosis for patients with metastatic melanoma (MM) involving distant organs is grim, and treatment resistance is potentiated by tumor-initiating cells (TICs) that thrive under hypoxia. MM cells, including TICs, express a unique glycome featuring i-linear poly-N-acetyllactosamines through the loss of I-branching enzyme, β1,6 N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase 2. Whether hypoxia instructs MM TIC development by modulating the glycome signature remains unknown. In this study, we explored hypoxia-dependent alterations in MM glycome‒associated genes and found that β1,6 N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase 2 was downregulated and a galectin (Gal)-8-ligand axis, involving both extracellular and cell-intrinsic Gal-8, was induced. Low β1,6 N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase 2 levels correlated with poor patient outcomes, and patient serum samples were elevated for Gal-8. Depressed β1,6 N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase 2 in MM cells upregulated TIC marker, NGFR/CD271, whereas loss of MM cell‒intrinsic Gal-8 markedly lowered NGFR and reduced TIC activity in vivo. Extracellular Gal-8 bound preferentially to i-linear poly-N-acetyllactosamines on N-glycans of the TIC marker and prometastatic molecule CD44, among other receptors, and activated prosurvival factor protein kinase B. This study reveals the importance of hypoxia governing the MM glycome by enforcing i-linear poly-N-acetyllactosamine and Gal-8 expression. This mechanistic investigation also uncovers glycome-dependent regulation of pro-MM factor, NGFR, implicating i-linear poly-N-acetyllactosamine and Gal-8 as biomarkers and therapeutic targets of MM.
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