Research Papers:

FRA1 promotes squamous cell carcinoma growth and metastasis through distinct AKT and c-Jun dependent mechanisms

Xiaoling Zhang, Joseph Wu, Suju Luo, Terry Lechler and Jennifer Y. Zhang _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:34371-34383. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.9110

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Xiaoling Zhang1, Joseph Wu1, Suju Luo1, Terry Lechler1,2, Jennifer Y. Zhang1,3

1Department of Dermatology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC, USA

2Department of Cell Biology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC, USA

3Department of Pathology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC, USA

Correspondence to:

Jennifer Zhang, email: [email protected]

Keywords: FRA1, AKT, c-Jun, cyclinB1, SCC

Received: January 27, 2016     Accepted: April 11, 2016     Published: April 29, 2016


FRA1 (Fos-like antigen 1) is highly expressed in many epithelial cancers including squamous cell carcinoma of the skin (cSCC) and head and neck (HNSCC). However, the functional importance and the mechanisms mediating FRA1 function in these cancers are not fully understood. Here, we demonstrate that FRA1 gene silencing in HNSCC and cSCC cells resulted in two consequences – impaired cell proliferation and migration. FRA1 regulation of cell growth was distinct from that of c-Jun, a prominent Jun group AP-1 factor. While c-Jun was required for the expression of the G1/S phase cell cycle promoter CDK4, FRA1 was essential for AKT activation and AKT-dependent expression of CyclinB1, a molecule required for G2-M progression. Exogenous expression of a constitutively active form of AKT rescued cancer cell growth defect caused by FRA1-loss. Additionally, FRA1 knockdown markedly slowed cell adhesion and migration, and conversely expression of an active FRA1 mutant (FRA1DD) expedited these processes in a JNK/c-Jun-dependent manner. Through protein and ChIP-PCR analyses, we identified KIND1, a cytoskeletal regulator of the cell adhesion molecule β1-integrin, as a novel FRA1 transcriptional target. Restoring KIND1 expression rescued migratory defects induced by FRA1 loss. In agreement with these in vitro data, HNSCC cells with FRA1 loss displayed markedly reduced rates of subcutaneous tumor growth and pulmonary metastasis. Together, these results indicate that FRA1 promotes cancer growth through AKT, and enhances cancer cell migration through JNK/c-Jun, pinpointing FRA1 as a key integrator of JNK and AKT signaling pathways and a potential therapeutic target for cSCC and HNSCC.

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