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Cell Res. 2015 Mar;25(3):370-85. doi: 10.1038/cr.2015.17. Epub 2015 Feb 6.

EWI-2 negatively regulates TGF-β signaling leading to altered melanoma growth and metastasis.

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Department of Cancer Immunology and AIDS, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Department of Pathology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA.
Department of pathology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


In normal melanocytes, TGF-β signaling has a cytostatic effect. However, in primary melanoma cells, TGF-β-induced cytostasis is diminished, thus allowing melanoma growth. Later, a second phase of TGF-β signaling supports melanoma EMT-like changes, invasion and metastasis. In parallel with these "present-absent-present" TGF-β signaling phases, cell surface protein EWI motif-containing protein 2 (EWI-2 or IgSF8) is "absent-present-absent" in melanocytes, primary melanoma, and metastatic melanoma, respectively, suggesting that EWI-2 may serve as a negative regulator of TGF-β signaling. Using melanoma cell lines and melanoma short-term cultures, we performed RNAi and overexpression experiments and found that EWI-2 negatively regulates TGF-β signaling and its downstream events including cytostasis (in vitro and in vivo), EMT-like changes, cell migration, CD271-dependent invasion, and lung metastasis (in vivo). When EWI-2 is present, it associates with cell surface tetraspanin proteins CD9 and CD81 - molecules not previously linked to TGF-β signaling. Indeed, when associated with EWI-2, CD9 and CD81 are sequestered and have no impact on TβR2-TβR1 association or TGF-β signaling. However, when EWI-2 is knocked down, CD9 and CD81 become available to provide critical support for TβR2-TβR1 association, thus markedly elevating TGF-β signaling. Consequently, all of those TGF-β-dependent functions specifically arising due to EWI-2 depletion are reversed by blocking or depleting cell surface tetraspanin proteins CD9 or CD81. These results provide new insights into regulation of TGF-β signaling in melanoma, uncover new roles for tetraspanins CD9 and CD81, and strongly suggest that EWI-2 could serve as a favorable prognosis indicator for melanoma patients.

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