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PLoS Comput Biol. 2016 May 3;12(5):e1004909. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004909. eCollection 2016 May.

A MAPK-Driven Feedback Loop Suppresses Rac Activity to Promote RhoA-Driven Cancer Cell Invasion.

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Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom.


Cell migration in 3D microenvironments is fundamental to development, homeostasis and the pathobiology of diseases such as cancer. Rab-coupling protein (RCP) dependent co-trafficking of α5β1 and EGFR1 promotes cancer cell invasion into fibronectin (FN) containing extracellular matrix (ECM), by potentiating EGFR1 signalling at the front of invasive cells. This promotes a switch in RhoGTPase signalling to inhibit Rac1 and activate a RhoA-ROCK-Formin homology domain-containing 3 (FHOD3) pathway and generate filopodial actin-spike protrusions which drive invasion. To further understand the signalling network that drives RCP-driven invasive migration, we generated a Boolean logical model based on existing network pathways/models, where each node can be interrogated by computational simulation. The model predicted an unanticipated feedback loop, whereby Raf/MEK/ERK signalling maintains suppression of Rac1 by inhibiting the Rac-activating Sos1-Eps8-Abi1 complex, allowing RhoA activity to predominate in invasive protrusions. MEK inhibition was sufficient to promote lamellipodia formation and oppose filopodial actin-spike formation, and led to activation of Rac and inactivation of RhoA at the leading edge of cells moving in 3D matrix. Furthermore, MEK inhibition abrogated RCP/α5β1/EGFR1-driven invasive migration. However, upon knockdown of Eps8 (to suppress the Sos1-Abi1-Eps8 complex), MEK inhibition had no effect on RhoGTPase activity and did not oppose invasive migration, suggesting that MEK-ERK signalling suppresses the Rac-activating Sos1-Abi1-Eps8 complex to maintain RhoA activity and promote filopodial actin-spike formation and invasive migration. Our study highlights the predictive potential of mathematical modelling approaches, and demonstrates that a simple intervention (MEK-inhibition) could be of therapeutic benefit in preventing invasive migration and metastasis.

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