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Open Access Research

Ovarian cancer ascites increase Mcl-1 expression in tumor cells through ERK1/2-Elk-1 signaling to attenuate TRAIL-induced apoptosis

Nadzeya Goncharenko-Khaider, Isabelle Matte, Denis Lane, Claudine Rancourt and Alain Piché*

Author Affiliations

Département de Microbiologie et Infectiologie, Faculté de Médecine, Université de Sherbrooke, 3001, 12ième Avenue Nord, Sherbrooke, J1H 5N4, Canada

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Molecular Cancer 2012, 11:84  doi:10.1186/1476-4598-11-84

Published: 17 November 2012

Abstract

Background

Ascites may affect the progression of ovarian cancer (OC). In particular, soluble factors present in OC ascites can create a protective environment for tumor cells that promote de novo resistance to drug- and death receptor-induced apoptosis. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms responsible for ascites-induced drug resistance are not well characterized.

Methods

Using human OC cell lines and tissues microarrays of human OC biopsies, we assessed the mechanism by which OC ascites increase Mcl-1 expression using Western blots, chemical inhibitors of ERK and small-inhibitory RNA treatments.

Results

In the present study, we found that both Mcl-1 mRNA and protein levels were upregulated within 2 h upon treatment of OC cells with ascites obtained from women with advanced OC. In contrast, the expression of other Bcl-2 family antiapoptotic members such as Bcl-2 and Bcl-XL was not affected by ascites. An increase of Mcl-1 expression was consistently observed across different ascites from women with advanced serous OC. The knockdown of Mcl-1 significantly blocked ascites-induced Mcl-1 upregulation and ascites-mediated inhibition of TRAIL-induced apoptosis. Ascites induced a rapid phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and Elk-1 transcription factor. Furthermore, we found that ERK1/2 inhibition or Elk-1 knockdown was sufficient to block ascites-induced Mcl-1 expression. In high grade serous OC, we found a positive correlation between phosphorylated ERK1/2 and Mcl-1 expression.

Conclusions

These results indicate that ascites-induced ERK1/2/Elk-1 signaling is critical for Mcl-1 expression and for the ascites-mediated attenuation of TRAIL-induced apoptosis. The ERK1/2/Elk-1/Mcl-1 pathway represents a novel mechanism by which ascites induce de novo TRAIL resistance in OC cells.

Keywords:
Ovarian cancer; Resistance; Mcl-1; ERK1/2; TRAIL; Elk-1