- Open Access
miR-190 suppresses breast cancer metastasis by regulation of TGF-β-induced epithelial–mesenchymal transition
© The Author(s). 2018
- Received: 22 December 2017
- Accepted: 26 February 2018
- Published: 6 March 2018
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide and metastasis is the leading cause of death among patients with breast cancer. The transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) pathway plays critical roles during breast cancer epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) and metastasis. SMAD2, a positive regulator of TGF-β signaling, promotes breast cancer metastasis through induction of EMT.
The expression of miR-190 and SMAD2 in breast cancer tissues, adjacent normal breast tissues and cell lines were determined by RT-qPCR. The protein expression levels and localization were analyzed by western blotting and immunofluorescence. ChIP and dual-luciferase report assays were used to validate the regulation of ZEB1-miR-190-SMAD2 axis. The effect of miR-190 on breast cancer progression was investigated both in vitro and in vivo.
miR-190 down-regulation is required for TGF-β-induced EMT. miR-190 suppresses breast cancer metastasis both in vitro and in vivo by targeting SMAD2. miR-190 expression is down-regulated and inversely correlates with SMAD2 in breast cancer samples, and its expression level was associated with outcome in patients with breast cancer. Furthermore, miR-190 is transcriptionally regulated by ZEB1.
Our data uncover the ZEB1-miR-190-SMAD2 axis and provide a mechanism to explain the TGF-β network in breast cancer metastasis.
- Breast cancer
- Transforming growth factor-β
- Epithelial to mesenchymal transition
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women worldwide. Approximately 252, 710 women are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, accounting for 30% of all cancers among women . Although the rates of metastasis and mortality in patients with breast cancer have decreased, metastases at distant sites are still responsible for majority of the cancer deaths . Distant disease involves multiple complex mechanisms, including invasion and migration, angiogenesis, anoikis resistance, and epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) [3–5]. Therefore, a better understanding of such molecular mechanisms is required to facilitate the development of more accurate prognostic markers as well as effective therapeutic strategies . Recently, the roles of microRNAs (miRNAs) have begun to be increasingly appreciated among the many molecular players described to date in breast cancer metastasis.
The transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) signaling pathway is a critical player in embryonic development and cellular homoeostasis in most species ranging from flies to mammals . The TGF-β signaling cascade is initiated by binding of the ligands to type II receptors, which recruit and phosphorylate type I receptors. The activated type I receptors phosphorylate the intracellular effectors, SMAD2/SMAD3, which form complexes with SMAD4 and then shuttle into the nucleus for transcriptional regulation [8, 9]. The TGF-β signaling pathway plays critical roles in multiple cancer biological processes, including growth, migration, invasion, differentiation, apoptosis, stemness, angiogenesis, and modification of the microenvironment [10, 11]. The TGF-β-SMAD pathway induces breast cancer progression by regulation of multiple stages in the metastatic process, among which EMT is a well-studied process that endows tumor cells with increased aggressiveness. EMT is a developmental process whereby epithelial cells reprogram to a mesenchymal-like phenotype. It is driven by a set of transcription factors, including the basic helix-loop-helix factor, TWIST1/2, and the zinc finger factors, SNAI1/2 and ZEB1/2, which function as direct or indirect repressors of the epithelial marker E-cadherin (CDH1) and inducers of mesenchymal markers, such as vimentin, N-cadherin (CDH2), and fibronectin. The TGF-β signaling pathway regulates these transcription factors, which confers TGF-β a potent inducer of EMT [12, 13].
miRNAs are a class of small non-coding RNAs, which are believed to negatively regulate gene expression by binding to complementary sequences in the 3′ untranslated regions (UTRs) by translational inhibition and destabilization of target mRNAs [14, 15]. Increasing evidence supports that miRNAs are frequently dysregulated in breast cancer, and act as either oncogenes or tumor suppressors and critical regulators of carcinogenesis and cancer progression, as well as useful diagnostic and prognostic markers in breast cancer [6, 16, 17]. However, our understanding of how miRNAs regulate breast cancer development and progression, particularly how they affect breast cancer metastasis is still limited. miR-190 is located at an intron region of the TLN2 gene on chromosome 15q22.2. Previous reports have shown that its expression decreased in aggressive neuroblastomas and its overexpression leads to inhibition of tumor growth and prolonged dormancy periods in fast-growing tumors [18–20]. miR-190 attenuates the migration and invasion abilities of hepatocellular carcinoma cells through inhibition of EMT phenotype and inhibits tumor angiogenesis . miR-190 is also involved in estrogen receptor signaling, causing inhibition of breast cancer metastasis . These results suggest that miR-190 may act as a tumor suppressor. In contrast, miR-190 is up-regulated in gastric cancer tissues and contributes to gastric cancer progression . This suggests that miR-190 may play a different role in different tumor environments and different stages of tumor development. More studies should be carried out on different tumor types.
Here, we investigate the role of miR-190 in breast cancer development and progression. miR-190 antagonizes TGF-β-induced EMT by targeting SMAD2 and suppresses breast cancer metastasis. miR-190 is transcriptionally regulated by an EMT-related transcription factor and forms a feedback loop with TGF-β/SMAD2 signaling. Therefore, our study reveals a novel mechanism of TGF-β signaling pathway during metastasis in breast cancer.
MCF10A, MCF7, T47D, BT474, MDA-MB-468, and MDA-MB-231 cell lines were obtained from the Cell Bank of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Shanghai, China). MCF10A was cultured as previously described  in Dulbecco’s modified Eagle’s medium (DMEM)/F12 supplemented with 5% horse serum (Life Technologies, Grand Island, NY, USA), 10 μg/mL insulin, 0.5 μg/mL hydrocortisone, 20 ng/mL epidermal growth factor (EGF), 100 ng/mL cholera toxin, and penicillin/streptomycin. BT474 cells were maintained in RPMI-1640 medium supplemented with 15% fetal bovine serum (FBS) and 0.1 IU/mL insulin. MDA-MB-231 cells were cultured in Leibovitz’s L-15 medium supplemented with 10% FBS without CO2 at 37°C. T47D and MCF7 cells were cultured in DMEM supplemented with 10% FBS.
Breast cancer specimens were obtained from Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital (TMUCIH). A total of 200 paraffin-embedded specimens and 30 primary breast cancer tissue and paired adjacent normal breast tissue specimens were included in this study. All tumor samples were from patients with a newly diagnosed breast cancer who had received no therapy before sample collection. This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital and written consent was obtained from all participants.
Antibodies and reagents
The antibodies and reagents are listed in Additional file 1: Supplementary Materials and Methods.
Plasmids, miRNA, and small interfering RNA (siRNA)
The plasmids, miRNA, and siRNA are described in Additional file 1: Supplementary Materials and Methods.
Transient and stable transfection of breast cancer cells
For transient transfection, miRNA or siRNAs were transfected into different cell lines using FuGENE HD Transfection Reagent (Promega, Madison, WI, USA) and plasmids were transfected using TransFast Transfection Reagent (Promega) according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. To generate stable cells, the lentiviruses (RiboBio, Shanghai, China) were used to infect MDA-MB-231-luc cells according the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Proliferation and invasion assays
Both MTT and plate colony formation assays were used to evaluate cell proliferation ability. Transwell assay was used to evaluate cell invasion. Experiments were carried our as described in Additional file 1: Supplementary Materials and Methods.
Western blotting and immunofluorescence
Standard procedures for western blotting and immunofluorescence are described in Additional file 1: Supplementary Materials and Methods.
RNA extraction and reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR)
Total RNA of cultured cells, surgically resected fresh breast tissues, and formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded clinical specimens were extracted using mirVana PARIS kit (Life Technologies) according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. qPCR was performed to detect mRNA expression using GoTaq qPCR Master Mix (Promega). TaqMan RT-qPCR was performed to detect mature miRNA expression using TaqMan miRNA reverse transcription kit, has- RNU6B (U6, ABI Assay ID: 001093) and miR-190 (ABI Assay ID: 000489) according to the manufacturer’s protocol (Life Technologies). The Ct values of each gene in triplicate reactions were averaged. Quantification of the target gene expression was calculated by normalizing the averaged Ct value of target gene to the averaged Ct value of housekeeping gene ACTB (ΔCt), and determined as 2-ΔCt. The sequences of PCR primers are listed in Additional file 1: Table S1.
Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) analysis
ChIP assay was performed according to the protocol of Upstate Biotechnology as previously described . The primer sequence used for miR-190 promoter was: 5′-GGTCTTTGATGATGATTCTGG-3′ and 5′-CTAGGCACAGTATTGAAGGTT-3′. Monoclonal antibody against HA was used for immunoprecipitation and normal IgG was used as negative control. Five percent of original DNA was used as input control.
Luciferase reporter assays
Luciferase assays were carried out using a dual luciferase assay kit according to the manufacturer’s recommendations as previously described .
The stable miR-190-overexpressed MDA-MB-231 and control cells (3 × 106 cells) together with 100 μg of Matrigel (BD Biosciences, San Diego, CA, USA) were inoculated into the mammary fat pads of 5-week-old female SCID mice. Tumor growth was recorded twice a week with a caliper-like instrument. Tumor volume was calculated according to the formula volume = (width2 × length)/2. The formation of metastasis was observed and assessed by bioluminescence imaging using a Xenogen IVIS 200 Imaging System (Caliper Life Sciences, Hopkinton, MA, UAS) at week 6. The mice were sacrificed at 6 weeks considering animal welfare and the final volume and weight of tumor tissues were determined. All in vivo experiments were reviewed and approved by the Animal Ethics Committee of TMUCIH and were performed according to the guidelines for the welfare and use of animals in cancer research  and national law.
Data are presented as mean ± standard deviation. The Student’s t-test (2-tailed) was used to determine the differences between the experimental and control groups. The level of significance was set to P < 0.05. Kaplan-Meier survival curves and the log-rank test were used to evaluate patients of breast cancer with different miR-190 expression. Spearman’s correlation was used to test the significance of association between miR-190 and SMAD2 expression. All calculations were performed with the SPSS for Windows statistical software package (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).
Down-regulation of miR-190 is required for cell invasion through regulating EMT
miR-190 inhibits breast cancer metastasis in vivo
miR-190 reverses TGF-β-induced EMT
miR-190 blocks TGF-β signaling by targeting SMAD2
ZEB1 transcriptionally suppresses miR-190 expression
To examine whether E-TFs regulate miR-190 promoter (− 300 to + 1) activity, we transfected the E-TFs into MCF10A cells. As shown in Fig. 5d, the luciferase activity was decreased in all the E-TF-transfected cells. We next constructed a mutant clone in which the E-box sequence was mutated from CACCTG to TTTTTT, and used it to transfect the MCF10A cells. As shown in Fig. 5e, this mutant showed no altered luciferase expression after transfection with E-TFs. We then used ChIP assay to immunoprecipitate HA and used primers to amplify the D-2 region of the miR-190 promoter region. As shown in Fig. 5f, only ZEB1 was able to bind directly to the miR-190 promoter region. To further confirm whether only ZEB1 transcriptionally suppresses miR-190, we transfected two E-TF expression plasmids and siRNAs targeting the other E-TFs. As shown in Fig. 5g, the luciferase activity of miR-190 promoter was no longer affected by TWIST1 or SNAI1 in ZEB1-depleted cells. The expression of miR-190 was also not affected by TWIST1 or SNAI1 in ZEB1-depleted cells (Fig. 5h). Together, these results indicated that ZEB1 transcriptionally suppresses miR-190 expression.
miR-190 inhibits EMT and invasion by suppressing SMAD2
To corroborate that SMAD2 mediates the role of miR-190 in TGF-β-induced responses in breast cancer cells, we transfected HA-SMAD2 plasmid into MCF10A cells in addition to TGF-β stimulation and miR-190 overexpression. While miR-190 overexpression led to SMAD2 suppression in TGF-β-treated cells and abolished TGF-β-induced EMT phenotypes, transient transfection of HA-SMAD2 restored cellular responses to TGF-β. There was no significant change in the expression of SMAD2 and EMT markers and cellular morphology after TGF-β stimulation, despite the overexpression of miR-190 (Fig. 6a and b), suggesting that SMAD2 inhibition mediates the effects of miR-190 overexpression on breast cancer cell EMT. Furthermore, SMAD2 overexpression abolished the effects of miR-190 on MCF10A cell invasion. With forced expression of SMAD2, miR-190 was no longer able to decrease MCF10A cell invasion after TGF-β stimulation (Fig. 6c). Thus, these results indicated that miR-190 inhibits EMT and breast cancer invasion by suppressing SMAD2.
miR-190 predicts favorable outcome and inversely correlates with SMAD2 in clinical samples
In the present study, we identified miR-190 as an EMT inhibitor and a tumor suppressor, and validated that miR-190 is decreased in clinical breast cancer tissues and correlates with survival in patients with breast cancer. Overexpression of miR-190 inhibits TGF-β signaling via down-regulation of SMAD2 expression and suppresses breast cancer metastasis both in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, miR-190 is a direct transcriptional target of ZEB1 and mediates TGF-β-induced EMT. Therefore, our results revealed a novel mechanism for constitutive TGF-β activation in breast cancer and demonstrated that miR-190 functions as a tumor-suppressive miRNA in breast cancer.
Dysregulation of miRNAs is involved in almost every cellular process during tumorigenesis and progression, including differentiation, proliferation, apoptosis, migration, invasion, angiogenesis, and EMT. It has been indicated that miR-190 expression is decreased in aggressive neuroblastoma, prostate cancer, and hepatocellular carcinoma, and overexpression of miR-190 leads to inhibition of tumor growth and metastasis [20, 28, 29]. miR-190 is also involved in estrogen receptor signaling, causing inhibition of breast cancer metastasis . However, miR-190 is up-regulated in gastric cancer tissues and contributes to gastric cancer progression . Consistent with most previous studies, we provided evidence that miR-190 is down-regulated in breast cancer tissues and correlates with better survival in patients with breast cancer. Furthermore, we observed that miR-190 suppresses breast cancer metastasis both in vitro and in vivo. However, tumor cell proliferation was not significantly affected by altered expression of miR-190. This is in line with observations from other experimental models of tumor proliferation in osteosarcoma and glioblastoma in which tumor cell proliferation is balanced by cell death, which results in persistence of a constant tumor size . Our study reveals that miR-190 functions as a tumor suppressor in breast cancer metastasis.
Metastasis is a multistep process where tumor cells leave the primary tumor, disseminate to distant sites, and form secondary tumors . EMT has been shown to play pivotal roles in these steps to promote metastasis. During the EMT process, epithelial cells lose their characteristics and acquire an invasive mesenchymal phenotype. The decreased expression of epithelial marker E-cadherin and increased expression of mesenchymal markers, vimentin and N-cadherin, are often observed when EMT occurs. Similar to the observation in hepatocellular carcinoma , we found that miR-190 induced the expression of E-cadherin and reduced the expression of vimentin and N-cadherin in breast cancer cells, whereas inhibition of endogenous miR-190 by its inhibitors yielded the opposite effects, suggesting that miR-190 is an EMT suppressor in breast cancer. TGF-β is a key driver of EMT and plays an important role in cancer metastasis. It represses E-cadherin expression and induces the expression of vimentin and N-cadherin, thus promoting EMT and cancer metastasis . TGF-β signaling is initiated with ligand-induced oligomerization of serine/threonine receptor kinases and phosphorylation of the cytoplasmic signaling molecules, SMAD2 and SMAD3 . Inhibition of TGF-β/SMAD2 has been shown to reverse the EMT-phenotype and suppress breast cancer metastasis [31–33]. Here, we demonstrated that miR-190 down-regulation is required for TGF-β-induced EMT, and SMAD2 is a direct target of miR-190. These results indicated that miR-190 suppresses breast cancer metastasis and EMT phenotype by targeting SMAD2.
ZEB1 is a crucial member of the zinc finger homeodomain transcription factor family involved in the regulation of cell fate determination and differentiation . The zinc finger structures are highly conserved and allow DNA binding at the E-box in the promoter region of target genes, such as E-cadherin . Here, we found that ZEB1 functions as a transcriptional repressor, which depends on the E-box binding sites on the miR-190 promoter region. Aberrant expression of ZEB1 has been observed in many human cancers, including breast cancer [36–39]. ZEB1 expression negatively correlates with E-cadherin expression and is associated with advanced diseases or metastasis, which indicates the relevance of ZEB1 induction of EMT and cancer development . The expression of ZEB1 is regulated by multiple signaling pathways, such as nuclear factor-κB, WNT, TGF-β, and miRNA. The important regulatory link between ZEB1 and miRNAs has been identified by several groups. The miR-200 family has been highly implicated in the regulation of EMT. Repression of ZEB1 by miR-200 family results in an increased expression of epithelial markers and a decreased expression of mesenchymal markers [41, 42]. Our results showed that ZEB1 binds to the miR-190 promoter and transcriptionally suppresses miR-190 expression, suggesting that ZEB1 promotes breast cancer metastasis and EMT phenotype through inhibition of miR-190 expression.
In summary, we demonstrated that miR-190 is a tumor suppressor in breast cancer and also an independent predictor in patients with breast cancer. miR-190 suppresses breast cancer metastasis and EMT phenotype by targeting SMAD2. Furthermore, miR-190 is a transcriptional target of ZEB1. Based on the findings from this study and others, we propose a model that highlights the role of miR-190 in regulating TGF-β signaling during breast cancer metastasis (Fig. 7g). The uncovering of this ZEB1-miR-190-SMAD axis will extend our comprehension of TGF-β network complexity and miR-190 as a new option to target TGF-β signaling for breast cancer intervention.
This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81502518, No. 81372843 and No. 81472472), and the Major Program of Applied Basic Research Projects of Tianjin (No. 17JCQNJC10400).
This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81502518, No. 81372843 and No. 81472472), the Major Program of Applied Basic Research Projects of Tianjin (No. 17JCQNJC10400).
YY and CXC designed the study; YY, LW, YZJ, CJR performed the experiments; LYR and DY performed the statistical analysis; GJ and WX participated in the clinical specimens detection; YY and CXC wrote and revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they no competing interest.
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