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J Biol Chem. 2012 May 18;287(21):17016-28. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.350470. Epub 2012 Mar 27.

The iron chelators Dp44mT and DFO inhibit TGF-β-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition via up-regulation of N-Myc downstream-regulated gene 1 (NDRG1).

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General Surgery Department of Ruijin Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai 200025, China.


The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a key step for cancer cell migration, invasion, and metastasis. Transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) regulates the EMT and the metastasis suppressor gene, N-myc downstream-regulated gene-1 (NDRG1), could play a role in regulating the TGF-β pathway. NDRG1 expression is markedly increased after chelator-mediated iron depletion via hypoxia-inducible factor 1α-dependent and independent pathways (Le, N. T. and Richardson, D. R. (2004) Blood 104, 2967-2975). Moreover, novel iron chelators show marked and selective anti-tumor activity and are a potential new class of anti-metabolites. Considering this, the current study investigated the relationship between NDRG1 and the EMT to examine if iron chelators can inhibit the EMT via NDRG1 up-regulation. We demonstrated that TGF-β induces the EMT in HT29 and DU145 cells. Further, the chelators, desferrioxamine (DFO) and di-2-pyridylketone-4,4-dimethyl-3-thiosemicarbazone (Dp44mT), inhibited the TGF-β-induced EMT by maintaining E-cadherin and β-catenin, at the cell membrane. We then established stable clones with NDRG1 overexpression and knock-down in HT29 and DU145 cells. These data showed that NDRG1 overexpression maintained membrane E-cadherin and β-catenin and inhibited TGF-β-stimulated cell migration and invasion. Conversely, NDRG1 knock-down caused morphological changes from an epithelial- to fibroblastic-like phenotype and also increased migration and invasion, demonstrating NDRG1 knockdown induced the EMT and enhanced TGF-β effects. We also investigated the mechanisms involved and showed the TGF-β/SMAD and Wnt pathways were implicated in NDRG1 regulation of E-cadherin and β-catenin expression and translocation. This study demonstrates that chelators inhibit the TGF-β-induced EMT via a process consistent with NDRG1 up-regulation and elucidates the mechanism of their activity.

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