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Loss of ACVRIB leads to increased squamous cell carcinoma aggressiveness through alterations in cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesion proteins.

Loomans HA, Arnold SA, Hebron K, Taylor CJ, Zijlstra A, Andl CD
Am J Cancer Res. 2017 7 (12): 2422-2437

PMID: 29312797 · PMCID: PMC5752684

Squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (HNSCC) and esophagus (ESCC) pose a global public health issue due to high mortality rates. Unfortunately, little progress has been made in improving patient outcomes. This is partially a result of a lack of understanding the mechanisms that drive SCC progression. Recently, Activin A signaling has been implicated in a number of cancers, yet the role of this pathway in SCC remains poorly understood. We have previously discovered that the Activin A ligand acts as a tumor suppressor when epithelial Activin receptor type IB (ACVRIB) is intact; however, this effect is lost upon ACVRIB downregulation. In the present study, we investigated the function of ACVRIB in the regulation of SCC. Using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated ACVRIB-knockout and knockdown using siRNA, we found an increased capacity to proliferate, migrate, and invade upon ACRIB loss, as ACVRIB-KO cells exhibited an altered cytoskeleton and aberrant expression of E-cadherin and integrins. Based on chemical inhibitor studies, our data suggests that these effects are mediated through ACVRIB-independent signaling via downstream activation of Smad1/5/8 and MEK/ERK. Overall, we present a novel mechanism of SCC progression upon ACVRIB loss by showing that Activin A can transduce a signal in the absence of ACVRIB.

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