The tropomyosin-related kinase (Trk) family consists of TrkA, TrkB, and TrkC, which play essential roles in tumor progression and/or suppression in various cancers. Little is known about the biological significance of the Trk family in human lung squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Here we investigated the clinical significance of the protein expression of Trk family members in samples from 99 SCC patients, and we explored the relationship between invasion/proliferation activities and Trk expression using lung SCC cell lines to clarify the biological significance of the Trk family in lung SCC. Immunohistochemical high expression of TrkB was significantly correlated with vascular invasion (P=0.004), lymph node metastasis (P<0.001), and advanced stage (P=0.0015). The overall survival of the patients with TrkB-high expression was significantly shorter than those with TrkB-low expression (P=0.0110). TrkA/TrkC expressions were not predictors of poor prognosis. An in vitro assay demonstrated that the inhibition of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (a TrkB ligand) and TrkB by K252a (a Trk inhibitor) or siRNA (BDNF-siRNA, TrkB-siRNA) suppressed the invasion, migration, and proliferative activities of lung SCC cells. The administration of recombinant human BDNF (rhBDNF) enhanced the invasion, migration, and proliferation activities, which were abrogated by K252a. TrkB-siRNA transfection increased the protein expression of E-cadherin and decreased vimentin expressions in lung SCC cells. Matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2)-mediated gelatin degradations were decreased in lung SCC cells transfected with TrkB-siRNA. Thus, TrkB-high expression is an indicator of poor prognosis in lung SCC, probably due to invasion/proliferation activities promoted by the BDNF/TrkB signaling pathway, which could become a therapeutic target for lung SCC.
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