Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

STAT6 expression in glioblastoma promotes invasive growth

Barbara C Merk1*, Jennifer L Owens3, Maria-Beatriz S Lopes1, Corinne M Silva2 and Isa M Hussaini1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pathology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22908, USA

2 Department of Microbiology, University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA 22908, USA

3 Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, 22908, USA

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BMC Cancer 2011, 11:184  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-184

Published: 20 May 2011



Glioblastoma (GBM) is a highly aggressive malignant primary brain tumor, characterized by rapid growth, diffuse infiltration of cells into both adjacent and remote brain regions, and a generalized resistance to currently available treatment modalities. Recent reports in the literature suggest that Signal Transducers and Activators of Transcription (STATs) play important roles in the regulation of GBM pathophysiology.


STAT6 protein expression was analyzed by Western blotting in GBM cell lines and by immunohistochemistry in a tissue microarray (TMA) of glioma patient tissues. We utilized shRNA against STAT6 to investigate the effects of prolonged STAT6 depletion on the growth and invasion of two STAT6-positive GBM cell lines. Cell proliferation was assessed by measuring 3H-Thymidine uptake over time. Invasion was measured using an in vitro transwell assay in which cells invade through a type IV collagen matrix toward a chemoattractant (Fetal Bovine Serum). Cells were then stained and counted. Kaplan-Meyer survival curves were generated to show the correlation between STAT6 gene expression and patient survival in 343 glioma patients and in a subset of patients with only GBM. Gene expression microarray and clinical data were acquired from the Rembrandt [1] public data depository ( webcite). Lastly, a genome-wide expression microarray analysis was performed to compare gene expression in wild-type GBM cells to expression in stable STAT6 knockdown clones.


STAT6 was expressed in 2 GBM cell lines, U-1242MG and U-87MG, and in normal astrocytes (NHA) but not in the U-251MG GBM cell line. In our TMA study, STAT6 immunostaining was visible in the majority of astrocytomas of all grades (I-IV) but not in normal brain tissue. In positive cells, STAT6 was localized exclusively in the nuclei over 95% of the time.

STAT6-deficient GBM cells showed a reduction in 3H-Thymidine uptake compared to the wild-type. There was some variation among the different shRNA- silenced clones, but all had a reduction in 3H-Thymidine uptake ranging from 35%- 70% in U-1242MG and 40- 50% in U-87MG cells. Additionally, STAT6- depleted cells were less invasive than controls in our in vitro transmembrane invasion assay. Invasiveness was decreased by 25-40% and 30-75% in U-1242MG and U-87MG cells, respectively. The microarray analysis identified matrix metalloproteinase 1 (MMP-1) and urokinase Plasminogen activator (uPA) as potential STA6 target genes involved in the promotion of GBM cell invasion. In a Kaplan-Meier survival curve based on Rembrandt [1] gene expression microarray and clinical data, there was a significant difference in survival (P < 0.05) between glioma patients with up- and down-regulated STAT6. Decreased STAT6 expression correlated with longer survival times. In two subsets of patients with either grade IV tumors (GBM) or Grade II/III astrocytomas, there was a similar trend that however did not reach statistical significance.


Taken together, these findings suggest a role for STAT6 in enhancing cell proliferation and invasion in GBM, which may explain why up-regulation of STAT6 correlates with shorter survival times in glioma patients. This report thus identifies STAT6 as a new and potentially promising therapeutic target.