Downregulation of HtrA1 promotes resistance to anoikis and peritoneal dissemination of ovarian cancer cells.
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We previously identified serine protease HtrA1 as a downregulated gene in epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC), but the functional consequence of loss of HtrA1 in EOC remains largely unclear. Here, we report that loss of HtrA1 attenuates anoikis--a critical physiologic barrier for tumor metastasis. In response to loss of anchorage, HtrA1 expression was upregulated in SKOV3 cells, resulting in autocatalytic activation of HtrA1. Stable knockdown of HtrA1 in SKOV3 and TOV21G cells resulted in resistance to anoikis due to enhanced activation of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)/AKT pathway. In suspended SKOV3 cells, enhanced expression of HtrA1 inhibited EGFR/AKT pathway, leading to increased cell death, whereas protease-inactive mutant HtrA1 failed to result in either the inhibition of EGFR/AKT pathway or increased cell death, suggesting the requirement of HtrA1 protease activity in regulating anoikis. Immunoprecipitation and immunofluorescence assays revealed that HtrA1 interacted with EGFR not only on the cell membrane but also in the nucleus. Most importantly, downregulation of HtrA1 significantly enhanced the peritoneal dissemination of SKOV3ip1 cells in nonobese diabetic/severe combined immunodeficient mice, with increased phospho-EGFR level in corresponding tumor nodules compared with that in xenografts originated from the control cells. Taken together, these data reveal for the first time a novel function of HtrA1 in promoting anoikis by attenuating activation of EGFR/AKT pathway that may contribute to its metastasis suppression capacity, thus providing a possible explanation for the aggressive nature of human ovarian tumors with downregulated HtrA1.(c) 2010 AACR.