Open Access Research article

Transforming growth factor-β suppresses metastasis in a subset of human colon carcinoma cells

Neka A K Simms1, Ashwani Rajput2, Elizabeth A Sharratt3, Melanie Ongchin4, Carol A Teggart1, Jing Wang1 and Michael G Brattain1*

Author Affiliations

1 Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases, University at Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, USA

2 Department of Surgery, Division of Surgical Oncology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, USA

3 Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, USA

4 Department of Surgery, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, USA

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BMC Cancer 2012, 12:221  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-221

Published: 6 June 2012

Abstract

Background

TGFβ signaling has typically been associated with suppression of tumor initiation while the role it plays in metastasis is generally associated with progression of malignancy. However, we present evidence here for an anti-metastatic role of TGFβ signaling.

Methods

To test the importance of TGFβ signaling to cell survival and metastasis we compared human colon carcinoma cell lines that are either non-tumorigenic with TGFβ response (FET), or tumorigenic with TGFβ response (FETα) or tumorigenic with abrogated TGFβ response via introduction of dominant negative TGFβRII (FETα/DN) and their ability to metastasize. Metastatic competency was assessed by orthotopic transplantation. Metastatic colony formation was assessed histologically and by imaging.

Results

Abrogation of TGFβ signaling through introduction of a dominant negative TGFβ receptor II (TGFβRII) in non-metastatic FETα human colon cancer cells permits metastasis to distal organs, but importantly does not reduce invasive behavior at the primary site. Loss of TGFβ signaling in FETα-DN cells generated enhanced cell survival capabilities in response to cellular stress in vitro. We show that enhanced cellular survival is associated with increased AKT phosphorylation and cytoplasmic expression of inhibitor of apoptosis (IAP) family members (survivin and XIAP) that elicit a cytoprotective effect through inhibition of caspases in response to stress. To confirm that TGFβ signaling is a metastasis suppressor, we rescued TGFβ signaling in CBS metastatic colon cancer cells that had lost TGFβ receptor expression due to epigenetic repression. Restoration of TGFβ signaling resulted in the inhibition of metastatic colony formation in distal organs by these cells. These results indicate that TGFβ signaling has an important role in the suppression of metastatic potential in tumors that have already progressed to the stage of an invasive carcinoma.

Conclusions

The observations presented here indicate a metastasis suppressor role for TGFβ signaling in human colon cancer cells. This raises the concern that therapies targeting inhibition of TGFβ signaling may be imprudent in some patient populations with residual TGFβ tumor suppressor activity.