Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is organized in cancer cells by a set of key transcription factors, but the significance of this process is still debated, including in non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Here, we report increased expression of the EMT-inducing transcription factor Snail in premalignant pulmonary lesions, relative to histologically normal pulmonary epithelium. In immortalized human pulmonary epithelial cells and isogenic derivatives, we documented Snail-dependent anchorage-independent growth in vitro and primary tumor growth and metastatic behavior in vivo. Snail-mediated transformation relied upon silencing of the tumor-suppressive RNA splicing regulatory protein ESRP1. In clinical specimens of NSCLC, ESRP1 loss was documented in Snail-expressing premalignant pulmonary lesions. Mechanistic investigations showed that Snail drives malignant progression in an ALDHþCD44þCD24 pulmonary stem cell subset in which ESRP1 and stemness-repressing microRNAs are inhibited. Collectively, our results show how ESRP1 loss is a critical event in lung carcinogenesis, and they identify new candidate directions for targeted therapy of NSCLC. Significance: This study defines a Snail-ESRP1 cancer axis that is crucial for human lung carcinogenesis, with implications for new intervention strategies and translational opportunities.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research