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Cancer Res. 2011 Mar 15;71(6):2381-91. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-10-2754. Epub 2011 Mar 8.

MiR-218 suppresses nasopharyngeal cancer progression through downregulation of survivin and the SLIT2-ROBO1 pathway.

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Ontario Cancer Institute, University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Nasopharayngeal carcinoma (NPC) is an Epstein-Barr virus-associated malignancy most common in East Asia and Africa. Here we report frequent downregulation of the microRNA miR-218 in primary NPC tissues and cell lines where it plays a critical role in NPC progression. Suppression of miR-218 was associated with epigenetic silencing of SLIT2 and SLIT3, ligands of ROBO receptors that have been previously implicated in tumor angiogenesis. Exogenous expression of miR-218 caused significant toxicity in NPC cells in vitro and delayed tumor growth in vivo. We used an integrated trimodality approach to identify targets of miR-218 in NPC, cervical, and breast cell lines. Direct interaction between miR-218 and the 3'-untranslated regions (UTR) of mRNAs encoding ROBO1, survivin (BIRC5), and connexin43 (GJA1) was validated in a luciferase-based transcription reporter assay. Mechanistic investigations revealed a negative feedback loop wherein miR-218 regulates NPC cell migration via the SLIT-ROBO pathway. Pleotropic effects of miR-218 on NPC survival and migration were rescued by enforced expression of miR-218-resistant, engineered isoforms of survivin and ROBO1, respectively. In clinical specimens of NPC (n=71), ROBO1 overexpression was significantly associated with worse overall (P=0.04, HR=2.4) and nodal relapse-free survival (P=0.008, HR=6.0). Our findings define an integrative tumor suppressor function for miR-218 in NPC and further suggest that restoring miR-218 expression in NPC might be useful for its clinical management.

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