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RANKL expression specifically observed in vivo promotes epithelial mesenchymal transition and tumor progression

RANKL expression specifically observed in vivo promotes epithelial mesenchymal transition and tumor progression

American Journal of Pathology 178(6): 2845-2856

Recent findings have focused attention on the molecular consequences of the microenvironment in tumor progression, but events occurring in cancer cells themselves in response to their ambient conditions remain obscure. Here, we identify receptor activator of nuclear factor κB ligand (RANKL) as a microenvironment-specific factor essential for tumorigenesis in vivo, using head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) as a model. In human HNSCC tissues, RANKL is abundantly expressed, and its expression level correlates with the histological grade of differentiation. RANKL levels are significantly higher in poorly differentiated SCCs than in well or moderately differentiated SCCs. In contrast, all HNSCC cell lines tested displayed extremely low RANKL expression; however, RANKL is efficiently up-regulated when these cell lines are inoculated in the head and neck region of mice. RANKL expression is restored in a microenvironment-specific manner, and cannot be observed when the cells are inoculated in the hindlimbs. Forced expression of RANKL compensates for tumor growth in the hindlimb milieu, promotes epithelial mesenchymal transition, and induces tumor angiogenesis, in a manner independent of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). These results implicate RANKL expression causatively in tumor growth and progression in HNSCC in vivo. RANKL may provide a novel functional marker for biological malignancy and a therapeutic target based on the specific nature of the microenvironment.

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Accession: 055333164

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

PMID: 21561598

DOI: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2011.02.003

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