Doublecortin-like kinase 1 (DCLK1) promotes tumour proliferation in human colorectal cancer (CRC). To elucidate the mechanism and clinical relevance of this association, we performed expression analysis using commercially available colon carcinoma cell lines (SW480, HCT116, CaCO2, SW48 and SKCO1) and immunohistochemical analysis of 200 resected CRC samples for correlation with clinical features. DCLK1 showed a high level of expression, especially in SW480 and HCT116 cells. Silencing DCLK1 expression using short hairpin DCLK1 (shDCLK1) RNA inhibited the growth and invasion capacities of these cell lines, which showed signs of entering into the mesenchymal-epithelial transition (MET). We found evidence of a strong correlation of DCLK1 expression with that of Tribbles homolog 3 (TRIB3), and silencing TRIB3 also led to the MET phenotype in these cells. In the clinical samples, compared with samples showing low expression of DCLK1, high expression was associated with poor prognosis in terms of overall and recurrence-free survival (P < 0.0001). The results of univariate and multivariate analysis suggested that high expression of DCLK1 in clinical colon cancer samples was tied to poor prognosis, cancer invasion depth and lymph node metastasis. DCLK1 expression correlates with malignant grade of colon cancer and offers a potential treatment target.
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