Targeting the mRNA-binding protein HuR impairs malignant characteristics of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cells.
ABSTRACT: Post-transcriptional regulation is a powerful mediator of gene expression, and can rapidly alter the expression of numerous transcripts involved in tumorigenesis. We have previously shown that the mRNA-binding protein HuR (ELAVL1) is elevated in human pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) specimens compared to normal pancreatic tissues, and its cytoplasmic localization is associated with increased tumor stage. To gain a better insight into HuR's role in PDA biology and to assess it as a candidate therapeutic target, we altered HuR expression in PDA cell lines and characterized the resulting phenotype in preclinical models. HuR silencing by short hairpin and small interfering RNAs significantly decreased cell proliferation and anchorage-independent growth, as well as impaired migration and invasion. In comparison, HuR overexpression increased migration and invasion, but had no significant effects on cell proliferation and anchorage-independent growth. Importantly, two distinct targeted approaches to HuR silencing showed marked impairment in tumor growth in mouse xenografts. NanoString nCounter® analyses demonstrated that HuR regulates core biological processes, highlighting that HuR inhibition likely thwarts PDA viability through post-transcriptional regulation of diverse signaling pathways (e.g. cell cycle, apoptosis, DNA repair). Taken together, our study suggests that targeted inhibition of HuR may be a novel, promising approach to the treatment of PDA.
Project description:HuR (ELAV1), an RNA-binding protein abundant in cancer cells, primarily resides in the nucleus, but under specific stress (e.g., gemcitabine), HuR translocates to the cytoplasm in which it tightly modulates the expression of mRNA survival cargo. Here, we demonstrate for the first time that stressing pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) cells by treatment with DNA-damaging anticancer agents (mitomycin C, oxaliplatin, cisplatin, carboplatin, and a PARP inhibitor) results in HuR's translocation from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. Importantly, silencing HuR in PDA cells sensitized the cells to these agents, whereas overexpressing HuR caused resistance. HuR's role in the efficacy of DNA-damaging agents in PDA cells was, in part, attributed to the acute upregulation of WEE1 by HuR. WEE1, a mitotic inhibitor kinase, regulates the DNA damage repair pathway, and therapeutic inhibition of WEE1 in combination with chemotherapy is currently in early phase trials for the treatment of cancer. We validate WEE1 as a HuR target in vitro and in vivo by demonstrating (i) direct binding of HuR to WEE1's mRNA (a discrete 56-bp region residing in the 3' untranslated region) and (ii) HuR siRNA silencing and overexpression directly affects the protein levels of WEE1, especially after DNA damage. HuR's positive regulation of WEE1 increases ?-H2AX levels, induces Cdk1 phosphorylation, and promotes cell-cycle arrest at the G2-M transition. We describe a novel mechanism that PDA cells use to protect against DNA damage in which HuR posttranscriptionally regulates the expression and downstream function of WEE1 upon exposure to DNA-damaging agents.
Project description:Previously, it has been shown that pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) tumors exhibit high levels of hypoxia, characterized by low oxygen pressure (pO2) and decreased O2 intracellular perfusion. Chronic hypoxia is strongly associated with resistance to cytotoxic chemotherapy and chemoradiation in an understudied phenomenon known as hypoxia-induced chemoresistance. The hypoxia-inducible, pro-oncogenic, serine-threonine kinase PIM1 (Proviral Integration site for Moloney murine leukemia virus 1) has emerged as a key regulator of hypoxia-induced chemoresistance in PDA and other cancers. Although its role in therapeutic resistance has been described previously, the molecular mechanism behind PIM1 overexpression in PDA is unknown. Here, we demonstrate that cis-acting AU-rich elements (ARE) present within a 38-base pair region of the PIM1 mRNA 3'-untranslated region mediate a regulatory interaction with the mRNA stability factor HuR (Hu antigen R) in the context of tumor hypoxia. Predominantly expressed in the nucleus in PDA cells, HuR translocates to the cytoplasm in response to hypoxic stress and stabilizes the PIM1 mRNA transcript, resulting in PIM1 protein overexpression. A reverse-phase protein array revealed that HuR-mediated regulation of PIM1 protects cells from hypoxic stress through phosphorylation and inactivation of the apoptotic effector BAD and activation of MEK1/2. Importantly, pharmacological inhibition of HuR by MS-444 inhibits HuR homodimerization and its cytoplasmic translocation, abrogates hypoxia-induced PIM1 overexpression and markedly enhances PDA cell sensitivity to oxaliplatin and 5-fluorouracil under physiologic low oxygen conditions. Taken together, these results support the notion that HuR has prosurvival properties in PDA cells by enabling them with growth advantages in stressful tumor microenvironment niches. Accordingly, these studies prov