Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) expresses a particularly aggressive metastatic phenotype, and patients with this disease have a poor prognosis. CXC chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4) is a cell surface receptor that has been shown to mediate the metastasis of many solid tumors including lung, breast, kidney, and prostate. In addition, overexpression of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is associated with the majority of NSCLC and has been implicated in the process of malignant transformation by promoting cell proliferation, cell survival, and motility. Here we show for the first time that activation of the EGFR by EGF increases CXCR4 expression and the migratory capacity of NSCLC cells. Furthermore, many solid tumors are associated with low oxygen tension, and when NSCLC cells were cultured with EGF under hypoxic conditions, CXCR4 expression was dramatically enhanced. A molecular analysis of these events indicated that augmented CXCR4 expression was regulated by the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/PTEN/AKT/mammalian target of rapamycin signal transduction pathway, activation of hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) 1α, and ultimately HIF-1-dependent transcription of the CXCR4 gene. Thus, a combination of low oxygen tension and overexpression of EGFR within the primary tumor of NSCLC may provide the microenvironmental signals necessary to upregulate CXCR4 expression and promote metastasis.
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