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Cell Death Differ. 2012 Aug;19(8):1390-7. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2012.20. Epub 2012 Mar 9.

STAT3 can serve as a hit in the process of malignant transformation of primary cells.

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Molecular Biotechnology Center and Department of Genetics, Biology and Biochemistry, University of Turin, Italy.


The transcription factor signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) acts downstream of many pro-oncogenic signals, including cytokines, growth factors and oncogenes, and is accordingly constitutively active in a wide variety of tumors that often become addicted to it. Moreover, STAT3 is a key player in mediating inflammation-driven tumorigenesis, where its aberrant continuous activation is typically triggered by local or systemic production of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6. We recently showed that mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) derived from STAT3C k/in mice, which express physiological levels of the constitutively active mutant STAT3C, display features of transformed cells such as increased proliferation, resistance to apoptosis and senescence, and aerobic glycolysis. Here, we show that pre-existing constitutively active STAT3 is sufficient to prime primary MEFs for malignant transformation upon spontaneous immortalization. Transformation is strictly STAT3-dependent and correlates with high resistance to apoptosis and enhanced expression of anti-apoptotic/pro-survival genes. Additionally, hypoxia inducible factor (HIF)-1α level is elevated by twofold and contributes to STAT3 oncogenic activity by supporting high rates of aerobic glycolysis. Thus, constitutively active STAT3, an accepted essential factor for tumor growth/progression, can also act as a first hit in multistep carcinogenesis; this ability to predispose cells to malignant transformation may be particularly relevant in the pro-oncogenic niche represented by chronically inflamed tissues.

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