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Oncogene. 2011 Apr 28;30(17):2003-16. doi: 10.1038/onc.2010.586. Epub 2011 Jan 10.

c-Met-induced epithelial carcinogenesis is initiated by the serine protease matriptase.

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Oral and Pharyngeal Cancer Branch, NIDCR, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


The progression and negative outcome of a variety of human carcinomas are intimately associated with aberrant activity of the c-Met oncogene. The underlying cause of this dysregulation, however, remains a subject of discussion, as the majority of cancer patients do not present with activating mutations in c-Met receptor itself. In this study, we show that the oncogenic protease matriptase is ubiquitously co-expressed with the c-Met in human squamous cell carcinomas and amplifies migratory and proliferative responses of primary epithelial cells to the cognate ligand for c-Met, pro-hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor (proHGF/SF), through c-Met and Gab1 signaling. Furthermore, the selective genetic ablation of c-Met from matriptase-expressing keratinocytes completely negates the oncogenic potential of matriptase. In addition, matriptase-dependent carcinoma formation could be blocked by the pharmacological inhibition of the Akt-mammalian target of Rapamycin (mTor) pathway. Our data identify matriptase as an initiator of c-Met-Akt-mTor-dependent signaling axis in tumors and reveal mTor activation as an essential component of matriptase/c-Met-induced carcinogenesis. The study provides a specific example of how epithelial transformation can be promoted by epigenetic acquisition of the capacity to convert a widely available paracrine growth factor precursor to its signaling competent state.

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