The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) regulatory factor SLUG (SNAI2) is a downstream target of SPARC and AKT in promoting melanoma cell invasion

Fenouille N, Tichet M, Dufies M, Pottier A, Mogha A, Soo JK, Rocchi S, Mallavialle A, Galibert MD, Khammari A, Lacour JP, Ballotti R, Deckert M, Tartare-Deckert S

PLoS ONE 2012;7(7):e40378


PMID: 22911700

During progression of melanoma, malignant melanocytes can be reprogrammed into mesenchymal-like cells through a process similar to epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which is associated with downregulation of the junctional protein E-cadherin and acquisition of a migratory phenotype. Recent evidence supports a role for SLUG, a transcriptional repressor of E-cadherin, as a melanocyte lineage transcription factor that predisposes to melanoma metastasis. However, the signals responsible for SLUG expression in melanoma are unclear and its role in the invasive phenotype is not fully elucidated. Here, we report that SLUG expression and activation is driven by SPARC (also known as osteonectin), a secreted extracellular matrix-associated factor that promotes EMT-like changes. Ectopic expression or knockdown of SPARC resulted in increased or reduced expression of SLUG, respectively. SLUG increase occurred concomitantly with SPARC-mediated downregulation of E-cadherin and P-cadherin, and induction of mesenchymal traits in human melanocytes and melanoma cells. Pharmacological blockade of PI3 kinase/AKT signaling impeded SPARC-induced SLUG levels and cell migration, whereas adenoviral introduction of constitutively active AKT allowed rescue of SLUG and migratory capabilities of SPARC knockdown cells. We also observed that pharmacological inhibition of oncogenic BRAF(V600E) using PLX4720 did not influence SLUG expression in melanoma cells harboring BRAF(V600E). Furthermore, SLUG is a bona fide transcriptional repressor of E-cadherin as well as a regulator of P-cadherin in melanoma cells and its knockdown attenuated invasive behavior and blocked SPARC-enhanced cell migration. Notably, inhibition of cell migration in SPARC-depleted cells was rescued by expression of a SLUG transgene. In freshly isolated metastatic melanoma cells, a positive association between SPARC and SLUG mRNA levels was also found. These findings reveal that autocrine SPARC maintains heightened SLUG expression in melanoma cells and indicate that SPARC may promote EMT-associated tumor invasion by supporting AKT-dependent upregulation of SLUG.