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Gastroenterology. 2009 May;136(5):1669-79. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2009.01.010. Epub 2009 Jan 15.

The mRNA binding proteins HuR and tristetraprolin regulate cyclooxygenase 2 expression during colon carcinogenesis.

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Department of Biological Sciences and Cancer Research Center, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina 29203, USA.



During tumorigenesis, loss of rapid messenger RNA (mRNA) decay allows for overexpression of cancer-associated genes. The RNA-binding proteins Hu antigen R (HuR) and tristetraprolin (TTP) bind AU-rich elements in the 3' untranslated region of many cancer-associated mRNAs and target them for stabilization or rapid decay, respectively. We examined the functions of HuR and TTP during colon tumorigenesis and their ability to regulate cyclooxygenase (COX-2), a mediator of prostaglandin synthesis that increases in the colon tumor microenvironment.


We evaluated expression of HuR and TTP during colorectal tumorigenesis and in colon cancer cells and associated them with COX-2 expression. HuR and TTP-inducible cells were created to investigate HuR- and TTP-mediated regulation of COX-2.


In normal colon tissues, low levels of nuclear HuR and higher levels of TTP were observed. By contrast, increased HuR expression and cytoplasmic localization were observed in 76% of adenomas and 94% of adenocarcinomas, and TTP expression was lost in >75% of adenomas and adenocarcinomas. Similar results were obtained for HuR and TTP mRNA levels in normal and staged tumor samples. In both adenomas and adenocarcinomas, COX-2 overexpression was associated with increased HuR and decreased TTP (P < .0001); similar associations were observed in colon cancer cells. HuR overexpression in cells up-regulated COX-2 expression, whereas overexpression of TTP inhibited it; limited TTP expression antagonized HuR-mediated COX-2 overexpression.


Increased expression of the mRNA stability factor HuR and loss of the decay factor TTP occurs during early stages of colorectal tumorigenesis. These changes promote COX-2 overexpression and could contribute to colon tumorigenesis.

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