WNT signaling activation in colorectal cancers (CRCs) occurs through APC inactivation or β-catenin mutations. Both processes promote β-catenin nuclear accumulation, which up-regulates epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). We investigated β-catenin localization, transcriptome, and phenotypic differences of HCT116 cells containing a wild-type (HCT116-WT) or mutant β-catenin allele (HCT116-MT), or parental cells with both WT and mutant alleles (HCT116-P). We then analyzed β-catenin expression and associated phenotypes in CRC tissues. Wild-type β-catenin showed membranous localization, whereas mutant showed nuclear localization; both nuclear and non-nuclear localization were observed in HCT116-P. Microarray analysis revealed down-regulation of Claudin-7 and E-cadherin in HCT116-MT vs. HCT116-WT. Claudin-7 was also down-regulated in HCT116-P vs. HCT116-WT without E-cadherin dysregulation. We found that ZEB1 is a critical EMT factor for mutant β-catenin-mediated loss of E-cadherin and Claudin-7 in HCT116-P and HCT116-MT cells. We also demonstrated that E-cadherin binds to both WT and mutant β-catenin, and loss of E-cadherin releases β-catenin from the cell membrane and leads to its degradation. Alteration of Claudin-7, as well as both Claudin-7 and E-cadherin respectively caused tight junction (TJ) impairment in HCT116-P, and dual loss of TJs and adherens junctions (AJs) in HCT116-MT. TJ loss increased cell motility, and subsequent AJ loss further up-regulated that. Immunohistochemistry analysis of 101 CRCs revealed high (14.9%), low (52.5%), and undetectable (32.6%) β-catenin nuclear expression, and high β-catenin nuclear expression was significantly correlated with overall survival of CRC patients (P = 0.009). Our findings suggest that β-catenin activation induces EMT progression by modifying cell-cell junctions, and thereby contributes to CRC aggressiveness.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korean government (MSIT) (No. 2018R1A2B6001938), the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Institutional Program (2Z05610), the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare (HI16C0257 to Y.-K. Paik), and a grant (2015M3A9B8028339) of the Liver Cancer Specimen Bank funded by the National Research Resource Bank Program of the Korea Science and Engineering Foundation under the Ministry of Science and Technology.
© 2019, The Author(s).
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