MELK as a potential target to control cell proliferation in triple-negative breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cells

Gang Li, Mei Yang, Li Zuo, Mei-Xing Wang
Oncology Letters 2018, 15 (6): 9934-9940
Maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) is an important regulator in tumorigenesis of human breast cancer, and if silenced leads to programmed cell death in specific breast cancer cell lines, including MDA-MB-231 cells. In the present study, RNA interference, proliferation assay and semi-quantification of cell cycle relative proteins were performed to determine the effects of MELK in human breast cancer cells. Data demonstrated that the highest level of MELK protein in the MDA-MB-231 cell line among eight breast cancer cell lines. The sensitivity of MELK small interfering-RNA varied in different breast cancer cell lines, but MELK silencing resulted in marked suppression of proliferation of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and non-TNBC cells. Specific silencing of MELK caused G2 arrest in TNBC MDA-MB-231 and HCC1143 cells, and G1 arrest in non-TNBC T47D and MCF7 cells. Notably, the knockdown of MELK did not induce apoptosis in HCC1143 cells, indicated by the lack of caspase-3 expression. In addition, in response to MELK silencing, cyclin B and cyclin D1 were downregulated in four breast cancer cell lines. Furthermore, the silencing of MELK resulted in the upregulation of p21, p27 and phosphorylated (p)-c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) in HCC1143 TNBC cells, and downregulation of p21 and p-JNK in T47D non-TNBC cells. Additionally, MELK protein was markedly suppressed in non-TNBC cells in response to estrogen deprivation. The findings from the present study suggested that MELK may be a potential target in MDA-MB-231 cells, although genetic knockdown of MELK resulted in inhibitory effects on proliferation of TNBC and non-TNBC cells. MELK exert its effect on different breast cancer cells via arrest of different cell cycle phases and therefore mediated by different mediators, which may be involved in the crosstalk with MELK signaling and with the estrogen receptor signaling pathway.

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