Rac1/β-Catenin Signalling Pathway Contributes to Trophoblast Cell Invasion by Targeting Snail and MMP9

Minghua Fan, Yongping Xu, Fanzhen Hong, Xiaolin Gao, Gang Xin, Haijie Hong, Lihua Dong, Xingbo Zhao
Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry 2016, 38 (4): 1319-32

BACKGROUND/AIMS: Preeclampsia is an idiopathic and serious complication during gestation in which placental trophoblast cells differentiate into several functional subtypes, including highly invasive extravillous trophoblasts (EVTs). Although the cause and pathogenesis of preeclampsia have remained unclear, numerous studies have suggested that the inadequacy of EVT invasion leads to imperfect uterine spiral artery remodelling, which plays a crucial role in the development of preeclampsia. Rac1, or Ras-related C3 botulinum toxin substrate 1, was found to be a key regulator of the migration, invasion uand apoptosis of various tumour cells. Because EVTs share similar invasive and migratory biological behaviours with malignant cells, this study aimed to determine whether the Rac1 signalling pathway affects trophoblast invasion and is thus involved in the pathogenesis of preeclampsia.

METHODS: We measured the activity of Rac1 and its downstream targets, β-catenin, Snail and MMP9 in placental tissues from patients experiencing a normal pregnancy and those with preeclampsia. Furthermore, we treated HTR-8/SVneo cells with a shRNA Rac1 vector and the β-catenin inhibitor IWP-2 and explored Rac1 signalling pathway activation as well as the effects of Snail and β-catenin on trophoblast invasion.

RESULTS: In placental samples from patients experiencing a normal pregnancy and those with preeclampsia, active Rac1 levels and MMP9 protein and mRNA levels were significantly decreased in term pregnancy samples compared to early pregnancy samples. Lower levels were found in preeclampsia samples than in normal term pregnancy samples, and these levels significantly declined in severe preeclampsia samples compared with mild preeclampsia samples. Further analyses demonstrated that both Rac1 shRNA and the β-catenin inhibitor significantly suppressed MMP9 and Snail activation in trophoblasts, thus impairing trophoblast invasion. Notably, silencing Rac1 down-regulated the expression of β-catenin in HTR-8/SVneo cells, demonstrating that β-catenin is a downstream effector of Rac1 in trophoblast invasion.

CONCLUSION: Our data suggest that Rac1-mediated activation of β-catenin might regulate Snail and MMP9 expression subsequently promoting trophoblast invasion in pregnancy.

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