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Interconnected feedback loops among ESRP1, HAS2, and CD44 regulate epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity in cancer

By Mohit Kumar Jolly, Bogdan-Tiberius Preca, Satyendra C Tripathi, Dongya jia, Samir M Hanash, Thomas Brabletz, Marc P Stemmler, Jochen Maurer, Herbert Levine

Posted 05 Feb 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/260349 (published DOI: 10.1063/1.5024874)

Aberrant activation of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in carcinoma cells contributes to increased migration and invasion, metastasis, drug resistance, and tumor-initiating capacity. EMT is not always a binary process, rather cells may exhibit a hybrid epithelial/mesenchymal (E/M) phenotype. ZEB1 - a key transcription factor driving EMT - can both induce and maintain a mesenchymal phenotype. Recent studies have identified two novel autocrine feedback loops utilizing ESRP1, HAS2, and CD44 that maintain high levels of ZEB1. However, how the crosstalk between these feedback loops alters the dynamics of epithelial-hybrid-mesenchymal transition remains elusive. Here, using an integrated theoretical-experimental framework, we identify that these feedback loops can enable cells to stably maintain a hybrid E/M phenotype. Moreover, computational analysis identifies the regulation of ESRP1 as a crucial node, a prediction that is validated by two complementary experiments showing that (a) overexpression of ESRP1 reverts EMT in MCF10A cells treated with TGFβ for 21 days, and (b) knockdown of ESRP1 in stable hybrid E/M H1975 cells drives EMT. Finally, in multiple breast cancer datasets, high levels of ESRP1, ESRP1/HAS2, and ESRP1/ZEB1 correlates with poor prognosis, supporting the relevance of ZEB1/ESRP1 and ZEB1/HAS2 axes in tumor progression. Together, our results unravel how these interconnected feedback loops act in concert to regulate ZEB1 levels and to drive the dynamics of epithelial-hybrid-mesenchymal transition.

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