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Biochem J. 2011 Nov 15;440(1):23-31. doi: 10.1042/BJ20111006.

MicroRNA-138 suppresses epithelial-mesenchymal transition in squamous cell carcinoma cell lines.

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  • 1Center for Molecular Biology of Oral Diseases, College of Dentistry, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.


Down-regulation of miR-138 (microRNA-138) has been frequently observed in various cancers, including HNSCC (head and neck squamous cell carcinoma). Our previous studies suggest that down-regulation of miR-138 is associated with mesenchymal-like cell morphology and enhanced cell migration and invasion. In the present study, we demonstrated that these miR-138-induced changes were accompanied by marked reduction in E-cad (E-cadherin) expression and enhanced Vim (vimentin) expression, characteristics of EMT (epithelial-mesenchymal transition). On the basis of a combined experimental and bioinformatics analysis, we identified a number of miR-138 target genes that are associated with EMT, including VIM, ZEB2 (zinc finger E-box-binding homeobox 2) and EZH2 (enhancer of zeste homologue 2). Direct targeting of miR-138 to specific sequences located in the mRNAs of the VIM, ZEB2 and EZH2 genes was confirmed using luciferase reporter gene assays. Our functional analyses (knock-in and knock-down) demonstrated that miR-138 regulates the EMT via three distinct pathways: (i) direct targeting of VIM mRNA and controlling the expression of VIM at a post-transcriptional level, (ii) targeting the transcriptional repressors (ZEB2) which in turn regulating the transcription activity of the E-cad gene, and (iii) targeting the epigenetic regulator EZH2 which in turn modulates its gene silencing effects on the downstream genes including E-cad. These results, together with our previously observed miR-138 effects on cell migration and invasion through targeting RhoC (Rho-related GTP-binding protein C) and ROCK2 (Rho-associated, coiled-coil-containing protein kinase 2) concurrently, suggest that miR-138 is a multi-functional molecular regulator and plays major roles in EMT and in HNSCC progression.

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