The MAP Kinases p38 and ERK are Involved in Hepatocyte-mediated Phenotypic Switching in Prostate Cancer Cells [Signal Transduction]

March 11th, 2014 by Ma, B., Wells, A.

The greatest challenge for the seeding of cancer in metastatic sites is integration into the ectopic micro-environment despite the lack of an orthotopic supportive environment and presence of pro-death signals concomitant with a localized 'foreign-body' inflammatory response. In this metastatic location, many carcinoma cells display a reversion of the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) that marks dissemination in the primary tumor mass. This mesenchymal to epithelial reverting transition (MErT) is thought to help seeding and colonization by protecting against cell death. We have previously shown that hepatocyte coculture induces the re-expression of E-cadherin via abrogation of autocrine EGFR signaling pathway in prostate cancer (PCa) cells and that this confers a survival advantage. Herein, we show that hepatocytes educate PCa to undergo MErT by modulating the activity of p38 and ERK1/2. Hepatocytes inhibited p38 and ERK1/2 activity in prostate cancer cells which allowed E-cadherin re-expression. Introduction of constitutively active MEK6 and MEK1 to DU145 cells cocultured with hepatocytes abrogated E-cadherin re-expression. At least a partial phenotypic reversion can be achieved by suppression of p38 and ERK1/2 activation in DU145 cells even in the absence of hepatocytes. Interestingly, these MAP kinase activities were also triggered by re-expressed E-cadherin leading to p38 and ERK1/2 activity in PCa cells; these signals provide protection to PCa cells upon challenge with chemotherapy and cell-death inducing cytokines. We propose that distinct p38/ERK pathways are related to E-cadherin levels and function downstream of E-cadherin allowing, respectively for hepatocyte-mediated MErT and tumor cell survival in the face of death signals.