Failure to EGFR-TKI-based therapy and tumoural progression are promoted by MEOX2/GLI1-mediated epigenetic regulation of EGFR in the human lung cancer

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Eur J Cancer. 2021 Nov 26:S0959-8049(21)01190-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.2021.10.032. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND: Mesenchyme homeobox-2 (MEOX2)-mediated regulation of glioma-associated oncogene-1 (GLI1) has been associated with poor overall survival, conferring chemoresistance in lung cancer. However, the role of MEOX2/GLI1 in resistance to epidermal growth factor receptor-tyrosine kinase inhibitors (EGFR-TKIs)-based therapy remains unexplored in human lung cancer.

METHODS: Functional assays using genetic silencing strategy by short hairpin RNAs, as well as cytotoxic (tetrazolium dye MTT) and clonogenic assays, were performed to evaluate MEOX2/GLI1-induced malignancy capacity in lung cancer cells. Further analysis performed includes western blot, qPCR and ChIP-qPCR assays to identify whether MEOX2/GLI1 promote EGFR/AKT/ERK activation, as well as EGFR overexpression through epigenetic mechanisms. Finally, preclinical tumour progression in vivo and progression-free disease interval analyses in patients treated with EGFR-TKI were included.

RESULTS: Overexpressed MEOX2/GLI1 in both EGFR wild-type and EGFR/KRAS-mutated lung cancer cells were detected and involved in the activation/expression of EGFR/AKT/ERK biomarkers. In addition, MEOX2/GLI1 was shown to be involved in the increased proliferation of tumour cells and resistance capacity to cisplatin, EGFR-TKIs (erlotinib and AZD9291 ‘osimertinib’), AZD8542-SMO, and AZD6244-MEKK1/2. In addition, we identified that MEOX2/GLI1 promote lung tumour cells progression in vivo and are clinically associated with poorer progression-free disease intervals. Finally, both MEOX2 and GLI1 were detected to be epigenetically involved in EGFR expression by reducing both repressive markers polycomb-EZH2 and histone H3K27me3, but, particularly, increasing an activated histone profile H3K27Ac/H3K4me3 at EGFR-gene enhancer-promoter sequences that probably representing a novel EGFR-TKI-based therapy resistance mechanism.

CONCLUSION: MEOX2/GLI1 promote resistance to cisplatin and EGFR-TKI-based therapy in lung cancer cells, modulating EGFR/AKT/ERK signalling pathway activation, as well as inducing an aberrant epigenetic modulation of the EGFR-gene expression in human lung cancer.

PMID:34844838 | DOI:10.1016/j.ejca.2021.10.032