CUX1-Transcriptional Master Regulator of Tumor Progression in Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors

Sebastian Krug, Julia Weissbach, Annika Blank, Aurel Perren, Johannes Haybaeck, Volker Fendrich, Anja Rinke, Thomas Mathias Gress, Jonas Rosendahl, Patrick Michl
Cancers 2020 July 19, 12 (7)
Recently, we identified the homeodomain transcription factor Cut homeobox 1 (CUX1) as mediator of tumour de-differentiation and metastatic behaviour in human insulinoma patients. In insulinomas, CUX1 enhanced tumour progression by stimulating proliferation and angiogenesis in vitro and in vivo. In patients with non-functional pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PanNET), however, the impact of CUX1 remains to be elucidated. Here, we analysed CUX1 expression in two large independent cohorts ( n = 43 and n = 141 tissues) of non-functional treatment-naïve and pre-treated PanNET patients, as well as in the RIP1Tag2 mouse model of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours. To further assess the functional role of CUX1, expression profiling of DNA damage-, proliferation- and apoptosis-associated genes was performed in CUX1-overexpressing Bon-1 cells. Validation of differentially regulated genes was performed in Bon-1 and QGP1 cells with knock-down and overexpression strategies. CUX1 expression assessed by a predefined immunoreactivity score (IRS) was significantly associated with shorter progression-free survival (PFS) of pre-treated PanNET patients (23 vs. 8 months; p = 0.005). In treatment-naïve patients, CUX1 was negatively correlated with grading and recurrence-free survival (mRFS of 39 versus 8 months; p = 0.022). In both groups, high CUX1 levels indicated a metastatic phenotype. Functionally, CUX1 upregulated expression of caspases and death associated protein kinase 1 (DAPK1), known as mediators of tumour progression and resistance to cytotoxic drugs. This was also confirmed in both cell lines and human tissues. In the RIP1Tag2 mouse model, CUX1 expression was associated with advanced tumour stage and resistance to apoptosis. In summary, we identified the transcription factor CUX1 as mediator of tumour progression in non-functional PanNET in vitro and in vivo, indicating that the CUX1-dependent signalling network is a promising target for future therapeutic intervention.

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