Activin A, a member of the transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) superfamily, is often overexpressed in solid carcinomas. We have previously reported that the expression of activin A is associated with lymph node metastasis in esophageal cancer. In the current study, our goal was to clarify the molecular mechanisms underlying the aggressive behavior of tumors expressing high levels of activin A. Using cDNA microarrays, the gene expression profile of a human esophageal carcinoma cell line (KYSE170) stably transfected with activin βA (Act-βA, a subunit of activin A) was compared with those of control human esophageal carcinoma cell lines. We found that expression of MMP-7 was higher in the Act-βA transfectants than in the control cells. To reveal the mechanism of expression of MMP-7 mediated by activin A, we evaluated mRNA expression of MMP-7 and Act-βA with or without activin A neutralizing antibody, using real-time PCR and Northern blot analysis. We also performed promoter analysis of the MMP-7 promoter and assessed c-Jun and Smad2/3 expression. MMP-7 expression in the transfectants was correlated with the level of Act-βA expression and was reduced by activin A neutralizing antibody. The Act-βA transfectants had higher MMP-7 promoter activity than control cells. MMP-7 promoter activity was not affected by mutation in the Smad binding site, while mutation of the AP-1 binding site did reduce activity. Moreover, the expression of c-Jun was increased in Act-βA transfectants. These results indicate that activin A may modulate the expression of MMP-7 via AP-1 and not through Smad2/3.
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