Small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) often features the upregulation of the Sonic hedgehog (Shh) pathway leading to activation of Gli transcription factors. SCLC cells secrete bombesin (BBS)-like neuropeptides that act as autocrine growth factors. Here, we show that SCLC tumor samples feature co-expression of Shh and BBS-cognate receptor (gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR)). We also demonstrate that BBS activates Gli in SCLC cells, which is crucial for BBS-mediated SCLC proliferation, because cyclopamine, an inhibitor of the Shh pathway, hampered the BBS-mediated effects. BBS binding to GRPR stimulated Gli through its downstream Gαq and Gα₁₂/₁₃ GTPases, and consistently, other Gαq and Gα₁₃ coupled receptors (such as muscarinic receptor, m1, and thrombin receptor, PAR-1) and constitutively active GαqQL and Gα₁₂/₁₃QL mutants stimulated Gli. By using cells null for Gαq and Gα₁₂/₁₃, we demonstrate that these G proteins are strictly necessary for Gli activation by BBS. Moreover, by using constitutively active Rho small G-protein (Rho QL) as well as its inhibitor, C3 toxin, we show that Rho mediates G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR)-, Gαq- and Gα₁₂/₁₃-dependent Gli stimulation. At the molecular level, BBS caused a significant increase in Shh gene transcription and protein secretion that was dependent on BBS-induced GPCR/Gαq-₁₂/₁₃/Rho mediated activation of nuclear factor κB (NFκB), which can stimulate a NF-κB response element in the Shh gene promoter. Our data identify a novel molecular network acting in SCLC linking autocrine BBS and Shh circuitries and suggest Shh inhibitors as novel therapeutic strategies against this aggressive cancer type.
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