NCSTN promotes hepatocellular carcinoma cell growth and metastasis via β-catenin activation in a Notch1/AKT dependent manner

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Abstract

Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma is the third top cause of cancer-related mortalities worldwide. The prognosis of HCC patients remains poor due to rapid progression and high incidence of tumor recurrence. Nicastrin (NCSTN), a core subunit of γ-Secretase, has been reported to play a vital role in tumor progression. However, no study till now has revealed its role in HCC. Methods: The expression of NCSTN was evaluated by immunohistochemical staining, Western blot, and quantitative real-time PCR. Cell counting kit-8, colony formation and cell cycle assays were used for evaluating cell growth in vitro. Transwell and wound-healing assays were used for evaluating cell migration and invasion capacity. Immunofluorescence, subcellular protein fractionation and co-immunoprecipitation were used for location analysis of β-catenin. The in vivo functions of NCSTN were illustrated by xenograft tumor models. Results: NCSTN was dramatically overexpressed in HCC compared to normal liver tissues. Elevated NCSTN expression level was significantly correlated to worse overall and recurrence-free survival of HCC patients. Enhanced NCSTN expression promoted HCC cell growth, migration and invasion in vitro and in vivo. Mechanistic investigations showed that NCSTN induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) process via upregulation of Zeb1. Subsequently, we revealed that NCSTN facilitated nuclear translocation of β-catenin, a positive transcriptional regulator of Zeb1. Using Notch and AKT inhibitors, we revealed that NCSTN promoted β-catenin activation through Notch1 and AKT signaling pathway. NCSTN increased AKT and GSK-3β phosphorylation by cleavage of Notch1, which decreased GSK-3β/β-catenin complex. The inactivation of GSK-3β inhibited the β-catenin degradation and promoted nuclear translocation of β-catenin to initiate transcription of Zeb1, resulting in malignant phenotype. Conclusions: Our results demonstrated that NCSTN promoted HCC cell growth and metastasis via β-catenin-mediated upregulation of Zeb1 in a Notch1/AKT dependent manner, suggesting that NCSTN might serve as a potential prognostic marker and therapeutic target for HCC.

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Li, H., Lan, T., Xu, L., Liu, H., Wang, J., Li, J., … Wu, H. (2020). NCSTN promotes hepatocellular carcinoma cell growth and metastasis via β-catenin activation in a Notch1/AKT dependent manner. Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research, 39(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13046-020-01638-3

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