Background. Human achaete-scute homolog-1 (hASH1) is a transcription factor that is expressed highly in neuroendocrine tumors such as medullary thyroid cancer (MTC). Thyroid C-cells do not develop in hASH1 knockout mice, which suggests that hASH1 is essential for normal C-cell development. Methods. To determine the effect of raf-1 induction on hASH1 and hormone production, we used an estrogen inducible raf-1 construct in MTC cell line (TT) cells (TT-raf cells). TT or TT-raf cells were treated with control or 1 μM estradiol. After 48 hours, the cells were analyzed for levels of hASH1 and chromogranin A by Western blotting and for calcitonin production by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Results. Activation of raf-1 in the TT-raf cells resulted in high levels of phosphorylated MEK and ERK1/2, a morphologic transdifferentiation, and a decrease in chromogranin A and calcitonin levels that are associated with a reduction in hASH1 production. Furthermore, using MEK inhibitors, we demonstrated that these raf-1-mediated changes are dependent on MEK but not ERK1/2 activation. Conclusion. hASH1 down-regulation by raf-1 in MTC cells is associated with a significant decrease in hormone production. Thus, hASH1 appears to be important in the endocrine phenotype of MTC tumors and may serve as a molecular target for the treatment of patients with MTC.
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