Fucose residues of cell surface glycans, which play important roles in growth, invasion and metastasis, are added by fucosyltransferases (FUTs) and removed by α-L-fucosidases (FUCAs). By the differential display method, we isolated a 3' non-coding region of α-L-fucosidase-1 (FUCA1) (a gene coding for the lysosomal fucosidase-1 enzyme) as a wild-type p53-inducible gene: 18S and 20S FUCA1 mRNA species were induced in Saos-2 cells transfected with a temperature-sensitive p53 mutant at the permissive temperature. By microarray analyses of thyroid cancer biopsy samples, FUCA1 RNA expression levels were found to be lower in anaplastic thyroid cancer samples (ATCs), while they were higher in papillary thyroid cancer samples (PTCs) and in normal thyroid tissues. Since most ATCs were reported to carry the mutated form of p53, while PTCs carry mostly the wild-type form of p53, it is likely that FUCA1 expression levels are regulated, at least in part, by the p53 status in thyroid cancers. In order to better understand the role played by FUCA genes in thyroid tumorigenesis, we examined the clonogenic potential in vitro of thyroid cell lines transfected with either FUCA1 or FUCA2 (the latter gene coding for a secreted, non-lysosomal enzyme). We found that α-L-fucosidases did not suppress grossly cell growth. Contrary to what we observed with the expression of FUCA1, the FUT8 expression levels were found high in ATCs but lower in PTCs and normal thyroid tissues. Taken together, these results suggest the possibility that the higher fucose levels on cell surface glycans of aggressive ATCs, compared to those of less aggressive PTCs, may be at least in part responsible for the more aggressive and metastatic phenotype of ATCs compared to PTCs, as the expression levels of FUCA1 and FUT8 were inversely related in these two types of cancers.
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