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Netrin-1 promotes gastric cancer cell proliferation and invasion via the receptor neogenin through PI3K/AKT signaling pathway

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:51177-51189. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.17750

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Kai Yin, Linjun Wang, Xuan Zhang, Zhongyuan He, Yiwen Xia, Jianghao Xu, Song Wei, Bowen Li, Zheng Li, Guangli Sun, Qing Li, Hao Xu and Zekuan Xu _

Abstract

Kai Yin1,2,*, Linjun Wang1,*, Xuan Zhang1,3,*, Zhongyuan He1,*, Yiwen Xia1, Jianghao Xu1, Song Wei1, Bowen Li1, Zheng Li1, Guangli Sun1, Qing Li1, Hao Xu1 and Zekuan Xu1,4

1Department of General Surgery, The First Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China

2Department of General Surgery, Affiliated Hospital of Jiangsu University, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu, China

3Department of Hepatobiliary Surgery, Wuhu No.2 People 's Hospital, Wuhu, Anhui, China

4Collaborative Innovation Center For Cancer Personalized Medicine, Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China

*These authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to:

Zekuan Xu, email: xuzekuan@njmu.edu.cn

Keywords: netrin-1, gastric cancer, neogenin, proliferation, invasion

Received: March 10, 2017     Accepted: April 27, 2017     Published: May 10, 2017

ABSTRACT

Netrin-1 is a laminin-related protein found to promote proliferation and invasion in multiple types of cancers. Recent studies have identified the function role of netrin-1 in several cancers; however, the influence of netrin-1 in human gastric cancer(GC) remains largely unknown. In this study, we found netrin-1 was upregulated in human GC tissues, where its expression correlated inversely with cancer stage and lymph node metastasis. We detected netrin-1 and its receptor knockdown significantly suppressed GC cells proliferation and invasion, while overexpression netrin-1 reversed these effects. Xenografted analyses using GC cells displayed significantly inhibition of tumor growth and metastasis by netrin-1 depletion. Furthermore, we identified that netrin-1 as a regulator of PI3K/AKT pathway to modulate GC cells proliferation and invasion abilities via its receptor neogenin. Taken together, our findings argued that netrin-1 and its receptor neogenin might act synergistically in promoting GC cells proliferation and invasion through the PI3K/AKT signaling pathway. It is conceivable that netrin-1 could be new therapeutic target to GC therapy.


Netrin-1 promotes gastric cancer cell proliferation and invasion via the receptor neogenin through PI3K/AKT signaling pathway | Yin | Oncotarget

INTRODUCTION

Gastric cancer (GC) remains a major public health issue as the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer. It is the third leading cause of cancer-associated mortality in male and the fifth in female worldwide [1]. Most of GC patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage and with lymph nodes or distal metastasis [2]. It is important to improve the understanding of the mechanisms underlying growth and metastasis in GC.

Netrin-1(NTN1) is a 60 to 80 kDa laminin-like protein, originally identified as an axon guidance molecule during neural development of Caenorhabditis elegans [3]. Many studies have shown that netrin-1 has a number of functions in non-neural system, for example, contributing to inflammation [4], cell migration and adhesion [5], tumor progression and angiogenesis [6]. In tumors, netrin-1 acted as an oncogene that was overexpressed in several cancers, such as colorectal cancer [7, 8], hepatic cancer [5], neuroblastoma [9], medulloblastoma [10], pancreatic cancer [11, 12], breast cancer [2], prostate cancer [13], and non-small cell lung cancer [14]. In addition, netrin-1 has been showed as a novel stimulator of cancer cell growth and invasiveness in glioblastoma, malignant melanoma, and colorectal cancer [1517]. Netrin-1 has several dependent receptors, including uncoordinated5A-D(UNC5A-D), deleted in colorectal cancer(DCC), neogenin, and down syndrome cell adhesion molecule (DSCAM). The expression levels of netrin-1 and UNC5B were increased in breast cancer patients with distant metastasis [2]; however, the functional role of netrin-1 and its receptor on GC cells proliferation and invasion remains poorly understood.

Although it is clear that netrin-1 and their receptors play important role in cancer progression, the detailed molecular mechanisms involved are not well understood. The PI3K/AKT signaling pathway was considered as an important player in cancer cell proliferation and invasion [18]. Recently, it was reported that netrin-1 induced cancer cell migration and invasion through PI3K/AKT pathway in hepatic cancer [5].In this study, we investigated the role of netrin-1 in GC development. We have demonstrated that blockage of endogenous netrin-1 resulted in the suppression of GC cells proliferation and invasion in vitro and in vivo. Our studies also identified netrin-1 functions as a novel regulator for the PI3K/AKT pathway via the receptor neogenin to mediate GC cells proliferation and invasion. We concluded that the netrin-1/neogenin pathway held promise as a novel therapeutic target to inhibit GC growth and metastasis.

RESULTS

Netrin-1 was overexpressed in GC tissues, and its expression correlated with lymph node metastasis and cancer stage

The specimens into groups including GC tissues and adjacent normal tissues were collected from 86 GC patients. We found netrin-1 mRNA expression level of GC tissues was upregulated compared with the matched non-cancerous tissues (Figure 1A). GC tissues with more than two-fold enrichment in netrin-1 mRNA expression level were defined as the high expression group, whereas those with a less than two-fold increase in netrin-1 mRNA expression level were defined as the low expression group. As shown in Table 1, netrin-1 expression level was correlated with lymph node metastasis and cancer stage. Next, we determined netrin-1 protein expression in human GC tissues by immunohistochemistry(IHC) and confirmed that netrin-1 protein expression was almost absent in adjacent normal gastric tissue. Additionally, netrin-1 expression was upregulated in GC tissues, and was further increased in those with lymph node metastasis (LNM; Figure 1B1D). Moreover, we assessed the expression levels of netrin-1 mRNA and protein in GC cell lines by qRT-PCR and western blotting. As observed in Figure 1E1F, HGC27 and AGS cell lines expressed netrin-1 at high levels, SGC7901 and MGC803 cell lines expressed netrin-1 at moderate levels, BGC823 cell line expressed netrin-1 at low level, while no expression was observed in MKN45 cell line.

The expression level of netrin-1 in GC specimens and cells.

Figure 1: The expression level of netrin-1 in GC specimens and cells. (A) Netrin-1 mRNA expression level in 86 paired GC specimens and adjacent normal tissues were investigated by qRT-PCR. (B) Representative results of netrin-1 protein expression in carcinoma and adjacent tissue by immunohistochemistry(IHC).Original magnification, 200×; Scale bar = 100 μm. (C) Box plot analysis of netrin-1 expression level in 86 paired GC tissues and their adjacent normal tissues. (D) Box plot showing the IHC scores for netrin-1 protein expression in 53 GC tissues with lymph node metastasis(LNM) and in 33 GC tissues without LNM. Differences were analyzed using the Mann-Whitney U-test. (E) qRT-PCR analysis of netrin-1 mRNA expression levels in GC cell lines. N.D. , not detected. (F) The expression level of netrin-1 in GC cell lines was detected by Western blotting. *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001.

Table 1: Correlation between clinicopathological factors and netrin-1 mRNA expression in gastric cancer patients

Factor

Number (%)

Netrin-1 expression

p-value

Low group

High group

Age (years)

> 60

51 (70.9)

30

21

0.231

≤ 60

35 (29.1)

16

19

Gender

Male

64 (74.4)

25

39

0.879

Female

22 (25.6)

9

13

Histological grade

Well differentiated

6 (7.0)

3

3

0.117

Moderately differentiated

55 (64.0)

29

26

Poorly differentiated

25 (29.0)

7

18

T grade

T1 + T2

27 (31.4)

13

14

0.269

T3 + T4

59 (68.6)

21

38

Lymph node metastasis

Negative

33 (38.4)

18

15

0.025*

Positive

53 (61.6)

16

37

Stage

I/II

37 (43.0)

19

18

0.018*

III/IV

49 (57.0)

13

36

Correlations were estimated by the Fisher’s exact test, *p < 0.05.

Netrin-1 silencing inhibited GC cells proliferation, migration, and invasion in vitro

To address the efficacy of netrin-1 on GC cells, we knocked down netrin-1 in HGC27 and AGS cells by using two different shRNA. As shown in Figure 2A2B, each GC cell line transfected with netrin-1 shRNA showed efficient silencing of netrin-1 expression, as determined by qRT-PCR and western blotting. We next observed the effect of netrin-1 silencing on the proliferation ability of the GC cells. With CCK-8 assay, we found that netrin-1 inhibition significantly decreased the proliferation ability of GC cells compared with the control group (Figure 2C). We also examined the effect of shNTN1 by colony formation assay and found that netrin-1 knockdown notably suppressed GC cells proliferation (Figure 2D, 2E). Taken together, our results demonstrated that netrin-1 suppression inhibited GC cells proliferation.

Netrin-1 knockdown inhibited GC cells proliferation, migration, and invasion abilities in vitro.

Figure 2: Netrin-1 knockdown inhibited GC cells proliferation, migration, and invasion abilities in vitro. (A, B) Netrin-1 was efficiently decreased by two different NTN1 shRNA in HGC27 and AGS cells. Netrin-1 expression levels were examined by qRT-PCR and western blotting after transfection for 48 hours. (C) Netrin-1 ablation suppressed the proliferation of HGC27 and AGS cells by CCK-8 assay. Growth curves were recorded for 5 days, and the OD450 values were measured with a microplate reader at the recommended wavelength. (D, E) Netrin-1 silencing reduced colony formation in HGC27 and AGS cells. (F, G) Netrin-1 knockdown inhibited HGC27 and AGS cells migration in Transwell assay. Original magnification, 100×; Scale bar = 100 μm. The number of migrated cells were quantified. (H, I) The invasive capabilities were investigated by Matrigel-coated Transwell assay. Representative images were shown. Original magnification, 100×; Scale bar = 100 μm. The number of invasive cells were quantified. *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001.

We next investigated whether netrin-1 knockdown could regulate GC cells migration and invasion. We conducted Transwell assay to further illustrate the impact of netrin-1 on migration and invasion abilities of GC cells. We discovered that netrin-1 knockdown markedly reduced the number of migrated HGC27 and AGS cells (Figure 2F, 2G). In addition, the number of invasive HGC27 and AGS shNTN1 cells were obviously decreased compared with negative control cells (Figure 2H, 2I). Thus, our date suggested that netrin-1 knockdown inhibited GC cells migration and invasion abilities in vitro.

Netrin-1 overexpression promoted GC cells proliferation, migration, and invasion in vitro

To further assess the role of netrin-1 in the proliferation, migration, and invasion abilities of GC cells, we overexpressed netrin-1 in BGC823 and MKN45 cell lines whose netrin-1 expression level was lower than other GC cell lines. The expression level of netrin-1 in BGC823 and MKN45 cell lines which were transfected into netrin-1 lentivirus were significantly higher than that in negative control group(Figure 3A, 3B). CCK-8 and colony formation assays revealed that the overexpression of netrin-1 obviously enhanced cell proliferation ability in both BGC823 and MKN45 cells (Figure 3C3E). These data supported netrin-1 overexpression promoted GC cells proliferation, confirming the role of netrin-1 in regulation of cell proliferation ability.

Netrin-1 overexpression increased the proliferation, migration, and invasion of GC cells in vitro.

Figure 3: Netrin-1 overexpression increased the proliferation, migration, and invasion of GC cells in vitro. (A, B) qRT-PCR and western blotting were used to analyze the expression level of netrin-1 in BGC823 and MKN45 cells which were transfected with lentivirus. N.D. , not detected. (C) Netrin-1 overexpression increased the proliferation of GC cells by CCK-8 assay. (D, E) Netrin-1 overexpression enhanced colony formation in BGC823 and MKN45 cells. (F, G) Overexpression of Netrin-1 enhanced migration of BGC823 and MKN45 cells in Transwell assay. Original magnification, 100×; Scale bar = 100 μm.The number of migrated cells were quantified. (H, I). Overexpression of netrin-1 promoted invasion of BGC823 and MKN45 cells in Matrigel-coated Transwell assay. Original magnification, 100×; Scale bar = 100 μm. The number of invasive cells were quantified. *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001.

To prove the role of netrin-1 in GC cells migration and invasion abilities, we determined the role of netrin-1 overexpression in BGC823 and MKN45 cells motility by using Transwell assay. Transwell assay also discovered that netrin-1 overexpression increased the number of migrated and invaded GC cells (Figure 3F3I).

Netrin-1 increased GC cells proliferation and invasion through receptor neogenin

Netrin-1 exerted its effects by binding to its receptor on cell membrane. We found neogenin and UNC5B expression levels were higher than other receptors in GC cell lines (Figure 4A, 4B). To further address the role of UNC5B and neogenin in the proliferation and invasion abilities of GC cells, we knocked down both neogenin (named siNeo) and UNC5B (named siUNC5B) in HGC27 cells. Western blotting showed that UNC5B and neogenin siRNA efficiently reduced protein expression in HGC27 cells, respectively (Figure 4C). The CCK-8 and colony formation assays indicated that siNeo significantly decreased the proliferation ability of HGC27 cells, while siUNC5B did not block cells proliferation (Figure 4D and Supplementary Figure 1A). There was no additional effect on GC cells proliferation using a combination of UNC5B and neogenin siRNA. In addition, silencing of neogenin also decreased HGC27 cells invasion, while siUNC5B has no effect (Figure 4E, 4F). Because the expression level of netrin-1 was highest in HGC27 cells, we next knocked down both netrin-1 and neogenin (Figure 4G). Our results showed that combination of netrin-1 and neogenin siRNA strongly suppressed GC cells proliferation ability by using CCK-8 and colony formation assays (Figure 4H and Supplementary Figure 1B). Meanwhile, Transwell assay showed that GC cells invasion ability was suppressed significantly when netrin-1 and neogenin were both silencing (Figure 4I, 4J).These results suggested that the netrin-1/neogenin loop could be a target to repress the proliferation and invasion abilities of GC cells.

GC cells proliferation and invasion abilities were mediated by neogenin.

Figure 4: GC cells proliferation and invasion abilities were mediated by neogenin. (A) The expression levels of netrin-1 receptors, including UNC5A-D, neogenin, DCC and DSCAM were detected by qRT-PCR. N.D. , not detected. (B) UNC5B and neogenin protein expression levels were analyzed in GC cell lines by western blotting. (C) HGC27 cells were transfected with control, UNC5B, or neogenin siRNA. Protein expression levels were measured by western blotting analysis. (D) CCK-8 assay showed that neogenin silencing suppressed cells proliferation in HGC27 cells. (E, F) Neogenin knockdown restrained cells invasion in Matrigel-coated Transwell. The number of invasive cells were quantified. Original magnification, ×100; Scale bar = 100 μm. (G) HGC27 cells were transfected with control, netrin-1, or neogenin siRNA. Protein expression levels were measured by western blotting analysis. (HJ) HGC27 cells proliferation and invasion abilities were assessed by using CCK-8 and Matrigel-coated Transwell assays. The combination of netrin-1 and neogenin siRNA significantly suppressed cells proliferation and invasion. The number of invasive cells were quantified. Original magnification, ×100; Scale bar = 100 μm. *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001.

In vivo analysis on the role of netrin-1 in regulating GC cells growth and metastasis

HGC27 cells with netrin-1 inhibition were injected into flanks of nude mice to form xenograft tumors (Figure 5A). As shown in Figure 5B5C, the tumor size and weight of netrin-1 inhibition group were markedly smaller than the control group. In converse, the tumor size and weight of netrin-1 overexpression group were larger than the control group (Supplementary Figure 2A–2C). We next employed IHC assay to analyze GC cells proliferation in vivo. As shown in Figure 5D5E, the positive nuclei rate of Ki-67 was remarkably lower in netrin-1 inhibition group. On the contrary, the positive nuclei rate of Ki-67 was higher in netrin-1 overexpression group (Supplementary Figure 2D–2E). Thus, our date indicated that GC cells growth was impaired after netrin-1 silencing.

In vivo analysis netrin-1 in regulation of GC cells growth and metastasis.

Figure 5: In vivo analysis netrin-1 in regulation of GC cells growth and metastasis. (A) After being transfected with lentivirus, HGC27 Scr and shNTN1-1 cells were injected into flanks of nude mice, and the mice were sacrificed after 4 weeks. (B, C) Tumor volumes and tumor weights were examined in HGC27 groups at 5 different time points. (D, E) Xenograft tumors were obtained as in (A), and then the samples were fixed and embedded in paraffin for immunohistochemical staining targeting Ki-67. Ki-67 positive nuclei rates for HGC27 were calculate by Image pro plus. Original magnification, 200×; Scale bar = 100 μm. (F) Photographs of tumors were taken by the IVIS Imaging System (Caliper Life Science, Hopkinton, MA). Representative luciferase signal was captured in each group six weeks after injected into HGC27 cells with netrin-1 knockdown and negative control cells. (G, H) Silencing netrin-1 suppressed gastric cancer metastasis. (G), representative micrographs of liver tissues with metastatic nodules(black arrowhead) were shown by HE staining. Original magnification, 200×; Scale bar = 100 μm.*p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001.

To investigate whether netrin-1 could affect metastasis of GC cells in vivo, HGC27 cells with netrin-1 knockdown and negative control cells were injected into tail vein of BALB/c nude mice. After about 6 weeks, we found that the nude mice which were injected into HGC27 cells with netrin-1 knockdown suppressed metastasis of GC cells in vivo (Figure 5F). Thus, our results showed that knockdown netrin-1 significantly decreased cancer metastasis to the liver. As shown in Figure 5G5H, HGC27 control cells formed large liver metastases, while the netrin-1 inhibition group has no metastasis. Taken together, these results suggested that netrin-1 knockdown could suppress metastasis of GC cells in vivo, which was consistent with our experiments results in vitro.

Effects of netrin-1 and neogenin on PI3K/AKT signaling pathway

In order to determine the molecular mechanism underlying the netrin-1 induced expression changes of proliferation and invasion-related biomarkers, we analyzed the potential downstream signaling pathway affected by netrin-1 knockdown and overexpression. FAK was an important downstream effector of netrin-1 [19]. We found FAK phosphorylation was declined in HGC27 and AGS cells with netrin-1 knockdown, while total FAK has no change. Conversely, we detected increased FAK phosphorylation in netrin-1 overexpression group(Figure 6A). Next, the activities of main downstream of FAK—the PI3K-AKT signaling pathway—was examined following netrin-1 treatment. We found that AKT phosphorylation was reduced in HGC27 and AGS cells with netrin-1 knockdown compared to negative control group, while no change was detected in their total protein levels. In contrast, the phosphorylation of AKT was increased in BGC823 and MKN45 cells with netrin-1 overexpression, and its total protein levels has no change (Figure 6A). In order to further understand how netrin-1 induced GC cells invasion, we examined the expression of matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9), a invasion-related biomarkers. As shown in Figure 6A, when blocking the netrin-1 expression, the expression level of MMP-9 was significantly downregulated. Conversely, overexpression of netrin-1 increased MMP-9 expression level (Figure 6A).

Effects of netrin-1 and neogenin on PI3K/AKT signaling pathways.

Figure 6: Effects of netrin-1 and neogenin on PI3K/AKT signaling pathways. (A) Effect of netrin-1 inhibition and overexpression regulated the expression level of p-FAK/FAK, p-AKT/AKT and MMP-9 in HGC27, AGS, BGC823 and MKN45 cells, respectively. (B) After being transfected with neogenin siRNA, the expression of p-FAK/FAK, p-AKT/AKT and MMP-9 were analyzed by western blotting in BGC823 cells. (C) CCK-8 assay showed that neogenin silencing suppressed cells proliferation in BGC823 cells with netrin-1 overexpression. (D) The proliferation ability of GC cells were suppressed in BGC823 cells with LY294002-treated by CCK-8 assay. (E, F) Neogenin knockdown restrained BGC823 cells invasion in Matrigel-coated Transwell. The number of invasive cells were quantified. Original magnification, ×100; Scale bar = 100 μm. (G, H) LY294002 inhibited BGC823 cells invasion in Matrigel-coated Transwell. The number of invasive cells were quantified. Original magnification, ×100; Scale bar =100 μm. *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001.

We also detected that neogenin knockdown decreased the phosphorylation of FAK, AKT, and MMP-9 in BGC823 cells (Figure 6B).We found neogenin knockdown significantly decreased the proliferation ability of BGC823 cells by using CCK-8 assay (Figure 6C). In addition, silencing of neogenin also decreased BGC823 cells invasion ability by using Transwell assay (Figure 6E, 6F). Moreover, we demonstrated that LY294002 (AKT inhibitor) suppressed BGC823 cells proliferation and invasion abilities (Figure 6D, 6G, 6H).In a word, our results declared that the activation of PI3K/AKT axis was essential for netrin-1 to promote GC cells proliferation and invasion.

DISCUSSION

Our primary goal in this study was to identify molecular factors that induce proliferation and invasion of GC. In tumors, netrin-1 acted as an oncogene that promoted cancer cells proliferation, adhesion and invasion [2, 11, 16]. In this study, we demonstrated that increased netrin-1 expression in GC tissues was associated with clinical cancer stage and lymph node metastasis. The results from in vitro and in vivo studies showed that silencing netrin-1 expression significantly decreased GC cells proliferation, migration, invasion, growth, and metastasis, suggesting that netrin-1 functions as a novel tumor inducer in GC. Moreover, we found the oncogenic effects of netrin-1 on GC cells proliferation and invasion via its receptor neogenin through PI3K/AKT signaling pathway.

The netrin family consists of three secreted netrins which include netrin-1, netrin-3 and netrin-4. Netrin-1 was known to promote cancer cell proliferation and invasion during tumor development [5, 6, 12, 20, 21]. Netrin-3 and its receptor neogenin were expressed in glioblastoma cells and associated with cell migration [22]. Previous work in GC cell lines revealed that netrin-4 administration resulted in receptor-mediated regulation of cell invasiveness, angiogenesis and cancer progression [23]. In addition, netrin-4 was found to promote glioblastoma cell proliferation via UNC5B [24].Like netrin-4, our results also indicated that netrin-1 was able to stimulate GC cells proliferation and invasion, implying the oncogenic effect of netrin-1 in GC progression.

Netrin-1 is a secreted protein, which binds to its receptor to exert its effects. We found netrin-1 and its receptor were both expressed in several GC cells, suggesting the possibility of an autocrine functional loop. However, the receptors and downstream signaling pathways of netrin-1 mediating these functions are not clear. Recent studies have reported that netrin-1 could bind to neogenin and UNC5B to promote medulloblastoma cell invasiveness [10]. Of all netrin-1 receptors, UNC5B and neogenin seem to be the most predominant in all six GC cell lines in our study. Using siRNAs inhibited neogenin or UNC5B protein expression respectively, we found GC cells proliferation and invasion abilities were markedly suppressed by interacting specifically with neogenin. These findings consistent with previous studies reporting that neogenin promoted the growth and invasive potentials of GC cells [25]. Interestingly, it was reported that netrin-1 suppressed growth of pancreatic cancer through receptor UNC5B [26].This disparity may be because of the presence of bifunctional receptors and interaction with them (UNC5A-D, DCC, neogenin and DSCAM) in different tumors.

Netrin-1 exerts its functions by activation of intracellular signaling pathways. FAK was one of the main downstream effectors of netrin-1 through the receptors DCC and neogenin [2730]. Our studies suggested that FAK phosphorylation was decreased in GC cells with netirn-1 inhibition, while netrin-1 overexpression reversed this effect, suggesting that netrin-1 could regulate FAK activity. In addition, PI3K/AKT signaling pathway was activated after netrin-1 treatment, which has been confirmed a downstream of netrin-1 in other studies [5, 31]. Moreover, netrin-1 stimulated schwann cells migration by activating PI3K/AKT signaling pathway [32]. Reportedly, netrin-4 induced GC cells proliferation and invasion by stimulating phosphorylation of AKT [23]. Consistently, our results indicated that netrin-1 knockdown decreased the phosphorylation of AKT, while netrin-1 overexpresssion increased its phosphorylation. Our previous studies suggested that MMP-9 was a key molecule for cell invasion and associated with netrin-1 in pancreatic cancer [33]. In this study, our data provided the evidence that MMP-9 was required for the netrin-1 signaling pathway in promoting GC cells invasion. Intimate crosstalk between the neogenin and FAK was observed [34].Our results also found neogenin knockdown decreased the expression levels of p-FAK, p-AKT and MMP-9. In a word, it is possible that netrin-1 promotes the proliferation and invasion of GC cells in a neogenin-dependent manner through further activation of PI3K/AKT signaling pathway.

Taken together, our in vitro and in vivo studies indicated that netrin-1 functions as a novel tumor inducer in GC development and progression. In addition, we revealed a critical mechanism for netrin-1 in regulation of GC cells proliferation and invasion via its receptor neogenin to regulate the PI3K/AKT pathway. This may highlight a new entry point for treating GC by targeting the netrin-1/neogenin/AKT signaling axis.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Samples and patients

GC tissue samples were collected from 86 patients who underwent radical resection at the First Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing Medical University. No chemotherapy or radiation therapy was administered before surgery. Written informed consent was obtained from all patients or from their relatives. The use of all tissue blocks for this study was approved by the Ethics Committees of Nanjing Medical University. The Ethics Committee permission number is 2015-SRFA-027.

Cell culture

Human GC cell lines (BGC823, HGC27, MKN45, SGC7901, AGS and MGC803) were obtained from the Cell Bank of Chinese Academy of Medical Science (Shanghai, China).These cells were cultured in 1640 medium containing 10% fetal bovine serum (Invitrogen Life Technology, CA, USA), penicilin (100U/ml), and streptomycin (100mg/ml) at 37°C with 5%CO2. BGC823 cells were treated with 10μM LY294002 (AKT inhibitor; Selleck, Huston, USA).

Quantitative real-time PCR

Total cellular RNA was isolated using Trizol (Invitrogen Life Technology, CA, USA) and cDNA was synthesized using PrimeScript RT Reagent (Takara, Dalian, China) according to the manufacturer’s protocol. The cDNA was amplified by Power SYBR Green PCR Master Mix (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, USA) according to the manufacturer’s protocol in an Applied Biosystems 7500 sequence detection system. Levels of gene expression were determined by ΔΔCT method, with the results being expressed as mRNA expression levels normalized to the levels of β-actin. The qRT-PCR primers were used as follows: Netrin-1,5′-TGCAAGAAGGACTATGCCGTC-3′(sense)and5′-GCTCGTGCCCTGCTTATACAC-3′(antisense);UNC5A,5′-CCGGCTGATGATCCCTAAT A-3′(sense)and5′-CTTGTGCAGCGTGAGGTAGA-3′(antisense);UNC5B,5′-GAGGTGGAATGGCTCAAGA A-3′(sense)and5′-ATGAGGTTGTGGTCGATGGT-3′(antisense);UNC5C,5′-AGCAAGGCAGACTGATCCA T-3′(sense)and5′-TCAGCAAGCTGACTCCTGAA-3′(antisense);UNC5D,5′-AGTGGGTCCATCAGAACGA G-3′(sense)and5′-CATGGAAGTCCTCCACCTGT-3′(antisense);DCC,5′-GCCACAAACCAACAGAGGAT-3′(sense)and5′-GCTGCTTCATGAGTCCTTCC-3′(anti sense);neogenin,5′-ATGGTGACCAAAGGTCGAAG-3′(sense)and5′-AGTCACATCCTTGGGTGGAG-3′(antisense);DSCAM,5′-TCCACCTCAGGAAGTTCA CC-3′(sense)and5′-CCACGGATAATCCCATTTTG-3′(antisense);β-actin,5′-TTAGTTGCGTTACACCTTTC-3′(sense)and5′-ACCTTCACCGTTCCAGTTT-3′(antisense).Each PCR was performed in triplicate and independently repeated three times.

Immunohistochemical analysis

The GC tissues and xenograft tumor samples were fixed with 4% formaldehyde solution. After being embedded within paraffin, the 4μm of slices were incubated with diluted primary antibody. The following primary antibodies were used: Ki-67 and netrin-1 (Abcam, Cambridge, UK; 1:200 dilution). Ki-67 and netrin-1 expression levels were evaluated according to the staining intensity (0 for absent, 1 for weak, 2 for moderate and 3 for strong staining). The proportion of positive cells was scored as 0(negative), 1 (< 10%), 2 (10–50%), 3 (50–75%) and 4 (> 75%). The two scores were multiplied, and the median value was calculated to be 6. Values of ≥ 6 were defined as high expression, and values <6 were regarded as low expression. All immunostanined sections were determined respectively by two pathologists who did not know the research contents. The sum of the intensity and proportion scores were used to analyze the immunoreactivity levels.

RNA interference, plasmids and lentivirus transfection

The shRNA targeting netrin-1 (shNTN1-1:5′-CATGGAGCTCTACAAGCTT-3′ and shNTN1-2:5′-GCAAGAAGUUCGAAGUGACTT-3′) and the scramble shRNA (5′-GTTCTCCGAACGTGTCACGT-3′) were synthesized and ligated into the retroviral vector (GenePharma, Shanghai, China). Full-length netrin-1 cDNA which were amplified from human genomic DNA was synthesized and cloned into the retroviral vector (GenePharma, Shanghai, China). Retrovirus packaging and transfection were conducted according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The siRNA duplexes targeting UNC5B(siUNC5B:5′-GAGGAGAGCUAUUUGAUUA-3′), neogenin (siNeo:5′-GCUGUUUGGUGUAGGUAAA-3′), netrin-1 (siNTN1:5′-CATGGAGCTCTACAAGCTT-3′) and a control siRNA (Scr:5′-TTCTCCGAACGTGTCACGTTT-3′) were also purchased from GenePharma. Plasmids was transfected into GC cells using Lipofectamine 3000 reagent (Invitrogen Life Technology, CA, USA). All transfections were performed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Cell proliferation and clonogenic assay

For cell proliferation detection, cells were transfected with lentivirus vectors and selected with puromycin at a concentration of 1 μg/ml after transfection for 48 h. Then, the cells were seeded into 96-well plates 1000 cells per well in triplicate and incubated with RPMI 1640 (10% FBS) for 5 days for CCK-8 colorimetric assay (Dijindo, Japan) according to the manufacture’s specifications. For the clonogenic assay, 500 cells were seeded into six-well plates and cultured for 14 days. The colonies on the plates were fixed with 4% paraformaldehyde for 30 minutes, then stained with 0.1% crystal violet and counted colony numbers.

Transwell assay

For invasion assay, Matrigel solution (BD Biosciences, USA) was prepared in serum-free cell culture medium at a dilution of 1:9, coated with the 24-well transwell chambers (Corning Costar, USA) overnight at 37°C before cell seeding. Complete culture medium containing 10% FBS was used as the chemoattractant in the lower chamber, 3 × 104 cells were seeded in the upper chamber in serum-free medium and incubated in 5 % CO2 atmosphere at 37°C for 24 h. The non-invaded cells were gently wiped from the upper surface of the membrane with cotton-tipped swabs. The invaded cells on the lower surface of the membrane were stained with 0.1% crystal violet for 20 min and counted. The experiments were performed in triplicate. The same experimental method was used for the migration assay, but the membranes were not pre-coated with Matrigel.

Western blotting assay

GC cells were processed for protein extraction according to standard procedures. The following primary antibodies were used: Netrin-1 (Abcam, Cambridge, UK; 1:200 dilution), GAPDH, p-FAK, FAK, p-AKT, AKT and MMP-9 (Cell Signaling Technology, Danvers, USA; 1:1000 dilution), UNC5B,neogenin (Sigma-Aldrich, St Louis, USA; 1:1000 dilution). GAPDH was used as an internal control. Protein was separated on the 10%SDS polyacrylamide gel and transferred to PVDF membranes (Bio-Rad Laboratories) which was then blocked in TBST containing 5%milk. The membranes were incubated with specific first antibodies in dilution buffer at 4 °C overnight. After the membranes were washed with TBST, the blotted membranes were incubated with HRR-conjugated anti-mouse or anti-rabbit IgG (1:1000) at room temperature for 2 h. Targeting protein expression levels were detected using an enhanced chemiluminescence (Millipore, Billerica, MA, USA) detection system.

Tumor xenograft of human GC cells in nude mice

Four-week-old male nude mice(BALB/c nude mice) were purchased from the Department of Laboratory Animal Centre of Nanjing Medical University. HGC27 and BGC823 cells were implanted by subcutaneous injection of 2 × 106 cells in 100μl of PBS into flanks of mice to make tumor. Four weeks later, mice were sacrificed and tumors were harvested. The xenograft diameters were measured using a slide caliper every other day until day28. The xenograft tumor volume was calculated using the following formula: v = 0.5 ab2 (a = the long diameter of the tumor, b=the short diameter of the tumor, and v= volume) [35].Negative control HGC27 cells and netrin-1 knockdown cells (5 × 106 cells in 100 μl PBS) were injected into tail vein of nude mice respectively. After 6 weeks, IVIS Imaging system (Caliper life Sciences, Hopkinton, MA) was used to observe the occurrence of distant metastasis. Liver tissues were collected for metastatic foci evaluation and standard histopathologic study. Care of experimental animals were in accordance with Nanjing Medical University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

Statistical analysis

The statistical analyses were performed using SPSS version 22.0 (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, USA). The data were presented as the mean ± standard error of the mean (SEM) unless indicated otherwise. The statistical significance of differences between two groups was evaluated by the paired Student t-test. Data from more than two groups were analyzed using one-way ANOVA. Fisher’s exact test was used for testing relationship between netrin-1 expression and clinicopathological factors. All statistical tests were two-sided, and P values less than 0.05 were considered to be statistically.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Not applicable.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

The authors declare no conflicts of interests

FUNDING

This work was partially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81572362, 81602080); the National Natural Science Foundation Project of International Cooperation(NSFC-NIH, 812111519); the Program for Development of Innovative Research Team in the First Affiliated Hospital of NJMU; the Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions (PAPD, JX10231801); 333 Project of Jiangsu Province (BRA2015474); the Research Innovation Program for College Graduates of Jiangsu Province(KYLX15_0964); Jiangsu Key Lab of Cancer Biomarkers, Prevention and Treatment, Collaborative Innovation Center for Cancer Personalized Medicine, Nanjing Medical University

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