Protein tyrosine kinase 7 (PTK7), a member of the catalytically defective receptor protein tyrosine kinase family, is upregulated in various cancers including esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). Here, we have explored the molecular mechanism of PTK7-dependent invasiveness in ESCC cells. PTK7 knockdown reduced gelatin degradation and MMP-9 secretion in cultures of ESCC TE-10 cells, and showed reduced levels of MMP9 mRNA using real-time RT-PCR and luciferase reporter assays. PTK7 knockdown decreased not only phosphorylation of NF-κB, IκB, ERK, and JNK, but also nuclear localization of NF-κB and AP-1 consisting of c-Fos and c-Jun. Activation of AP-1 and NF-κB requires PTK7-mediated activation of tyrosine kinases, including Src. In addition, NF-κB activation by PTK7 involves the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway. PTK7-mediated upregulation of MMP9 was also observed in other ESCC cell lines and in three-dimensional cultures of TE-10 cells. Moreover, MMP-9 expression positively correlated with PTK7 expression in ESCC tumor tissue. These findings demonstrate that PTK7 upregulates MMP9 through activation of AP-1 and NF-κB and, thus increases invasive properties of ESCC cells.
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