Detachment of non-malignant epithelial cells from the extracellular matrix causes their growth arrest and, ultimately, death. By contrast, cells composing carcinomas, cancers of epithelial origin, can survive and proliferate without being attached to the extracellular matrix. These properties of tumor cells represent hallmarks of malignant transformation and are critical for cancer progression. Previously we identified several mechanisms by which ras, a major oncogene, blocks detachment-induced apoptosis of intestinal epithelial cells, but mechanisms by which Ras promotes proliferation of those cells that remain viable following detachment are unknown. We show here that detachment of non-malignant intestinal epithelial cells promotes formation of autophagosomes, vacuole-like structures that mediate autophagy (a process of cellular self-cannibalization), and that oncogenic ras prevents this autophagosome formation. We also found that ras activates a GTPase RhoA, that RhoA promotes activation of a protease calpain, and that calpain triggers degradation of Beclin-1, a critical mediator of autophagy, in these cells. The reversal of the effect of ras on Beclin-1 (achieved by expression of exogenous Beclin-1) promoted autophagosome formation following cell detachment, significantly reduced the fraction of detached cells in the S phase of the cell cycle and their rate of proliferation without affecting their viability. Furthermore, RNA interference-induced Beclin-1 down-regulation in non-malignant intestinal epithelial cells prevented detachmentdependent reduction of the fraction of these cells in the S phase of the cell cycle. Thus, ras oncogene promotes proliferation of those malignant intestinal epithelial cells that remain viable following detachment via a distinct novel mechanism that involves Ras-induced down-regulation of Beclin-1.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology