Identification of translationally deregulated proteins during inflammation-associated tumorigenesis
- The translation of mRNAs into proteins is an elaborate and highly regulated process. Translational regulation primarily takes place at the level of initiation. During initation the eukaryotic initiation factors (eIFs) form a complex that binds to the 5’end of the mRNA to scan for a start codon. Once recognized, the ribosome is recruited to the mRNA and protein synthesis starts. Initiation of translation can basically occur via two distinct mechanisms, i.e. cap-dependent and cap-independent that is mediated via internal ribosome entry sites (IRESs). The former is mediated by a 5’cap structure composed of a 7-methylguanylate which is added to every mRNA during transcription and recruits the initiation complex. IRES-dependent translation involves elements within the 5’untranslated region (UTR) of the mRNA that mostly bind IRES trans-acting factors (ITAFs) which associate either with the initiation complex or with the ribosome itself and consequently allow for internal initiation of translation.
During tumorigenesis the demand for proteins is increased due to rapid cell growth, which consequently requires enhanced translation. Many factors that regulate translation are overexpressed in tumors. Moreover, signaling pathways that trigger translation or further hyperactivated by the surrounding tumor microenvironment. This environment is largely generated by infiltration of immune cells such as macrophages that secrete cytokines and other mediators to promote tumorigenesis. As the effects of inflammatory conditions on the translation of specific targets are only poorly characterized, my study aimed at identifying translationally deregulated targets during inflammation-associated tumorigenesis.
For this purpose, I cocultured MCF7 breast tumor cells with conditioned medium of activated monocyte-derived U937 macrophages (CM). Polysome profiling and microarray analysis identified 42 targets to be regulated at the level of translation. The results were validated by quantitative PCR and one target - early growth response 2 (EGR2) - was chosen for in depth analysis of the mechanism leading to its enhanced translation.
In order to identify upstream signaling molecules causing enhanced EGR2 protein synthesis the cytokine profile of CM was analyzed and the impact of several cytokines on EGR2 translation was examined. Preincubation of CM with neutralizing antibodies revealed that lowering interleukin 6 (IL-6) had only little effect, whereas depletion of IL 1β significantly reduced EGR2 translation. This finding was corroborated by the fact that treatment with recombinant IL-1β enhanced EGR2 translation to virtually the same extend as CM. Further experiments revealed that this effect was mediated via the p38-MAPK signaling cascade.
Interestingly, I observed that the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin, which reduces cap-dependent translation, specifically stimulated EGR2 translation. This result argued for an IRES-dependent mechanism that might account for EGR2 translation. The use of bicistronic reporter assays verified this hypothesis. In line with the above mentioned results, CM, IL-1β and p38-MAPK induced EGR2-IRES activity.
Since IRESs commonly require ITAFs to mediate translation initiation, the binding of proteins to the 5’UTR was analyzed using mass spectrometry. Among others, several previously described ITAFs, such as polypyrimidine tract-binding protein (PTB) and heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein A1 (hnRNP-A1) were identified to directly bind to the EGR2-5’UTR. Furthermore, overexpression of hnRNP-A1 enhanced EGR2-IRES activity whereas a dominant negative form of hnRNP-A1 significantly decreased it, thus, showing its importance for EGR2 translation.
In summary, my data provide evidence that EGR2 expression can be controlled by IRES-dependent translational regulation, which is responsive to an inflammatory environment. The identified mechanism may not be exclusive for one target but might be representative for gene expression regulation mechanisms during tumorigenesis. This is of special interest for the treatment of cancer patients and development of more specific therapies to reduce tumor outcome.