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Hepatology. 2016 Nov;64(5):1725-1742. doi: 10.1002/hep.28755. Epub 2016 Sep 23.

Liver protects metastatic prostate cancer from induced death by activating E-cadherin signaling.

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Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.
Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System, Pittsburgh, PA.
Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.
Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System, Pittsburgh, PA.
University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Pittsburgh, PA.


Liver is one of the most common sites of cancer metastasis. Once disseminated, the prognosis is poor as these tumors often display generalized chemoresistance, particularly for carcinomas that derive not from the aerodigestive tract. When these cancers seed the liver, the aggressive cells usually undergo a mesenchymal to epithelial reverting transition that both aids colonization and renders the tumor cells chemoresistant. In vitro studies demonstrate that hepatocytes drive this phenotypic shift. However, the in vivo evidence and the molecular signals that protect these cells from induced death are yet to be defined. Herein, we report that membrane surface E-cadherin-expressing prostate cancer cells were resistant to cell death by chemotherapeutic drugs but E-cadherin null cells or those expressing E-cadherin only in the cytoplasm were sensitive to death signals and chemotherapies both in vitro and in vivo. While cell-cell E-cadherin ligandation reduced mitogenesis, this chemoprotection was proliferation-independent as killing of both 5-ethynyl-2'-deoxyuridine-positive (or Ki67+ ) and 5-ethynyl-2'-deoxyuridine-negative (Ki67- ) cells was inversely related to membrane-bound E-cadherin. Inhibiting the canonical survival kinases extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases, protein kinase B, and Janus kinase, which are activated by chemotherapeutics in epithelial cell-transitioned prostate cancer, abrogated the chemoresistance both in cell culture and in animal models of metastatic cancer. For disseminated tumors, protein kinase B disruption in itself had no effect on tumor survival but was synergistic with chemotherapy, leading to increased killing.


Liver microenvironment-driven phenotypic switching of carcinoma cells and subsequent survival signaling results in activation of canonical survival pathways that protect the disseminated prostate cancer liver micrometastases in a proliferation-independent manner, and these pathways can be targeted as an adjuvant treatment to improve the efficacy of traditional chemotherapeutics (Hepatology 2016;64:1725-1742).

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