Induction of MET by ionizing radiation and its role in radioresistance and invasive growth of cancer

Francesca De Bacco, Paolo Luraghi, Enzo Medico, Gigliola Reato, Flavia Girolami, Timothy Perera, Pietro Gabriele, Paolo M. Comoglio, Carla Boccaccio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BackgroundIonizing radiation (IR) is effectively used in cancer therapy. However, in subsets of patients, a few radioresistant cancer cells survive and cause disease relapse with metastatic progression. The MET oncogene encodes the hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) receptor and is known to drive "invasive growth", a regenerative and prosurvival program unduly activated in metastasis.MethodsHuman tumor cell lines (MDA-MB-231, MDA-MB-435S, U251) were subjected to therapeutic doses of IR. MET mRNA, and protein expression and signal transduction were compared in treated and untreated cells, and the involvement of the DNA-damage sensor ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) and the transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) in activating MET transcription were analyzed by immunoblotting, chromatin immunoprecipitation, and use of NF-κB silencing RNA (siRNA). Cell invasiveness was measured in wound healing and transwell assays, and cell survival was measured in viability and clonogenic assays. MET was inhibited by siRNA or small-molecule kinase inhibitors (PHA665752 or JNJ-38877605). Combinations of MET-targeted therapy and radiotherapy were assessed in MDA-MB-231 and U251 xenografts (n = 5-6 mice per group). All P values were from two-sided tests.ResultsAfter irradiation, MET expression in cell lines was increased up to fivefold via activation of ATM and NF-κB. MET overexpression increased ligand-independent MET phosphorylation and signal transduction, and rendered cells more sensitive to HGF. Irradiated cells became more invasive via a MET-dependent mechanism that was further enhanced in the presence of HGF. MET silencing by siRNA or inhibition of its kinase activity by treatment with PHA665752 or JNJ-38877605 counteracted radiation-induced invasiveness, promoted apoptosis, and prevented cells from resuming proliferation after irradiation in vitro. Treatment with MET inhibitors enhanced the efficacy of IR to stop the growth of or to induce the regression of xenografts (eg, at day 13, U251 xenografts, mean volume increase relative to mean tumor volume at day 0: vehicle = 438%, 5Gy IR = 151%, 5 Gy IR + JNJ-38877605 = 76%; difference, IR vs JNJ-38877604 + IR = 75%, 95% CI = 59% to 91%, P =. 01).ConclusionIR induces overexpression and activity of the MET oncogene through the ATM-NF-κB signaling pathway; MET, in turn, promotes cell invasion and protects cells from apoptosis, thus supporting radioresistance. Drugs targeting MET increase tumor cell radiosensitivity and prevent radiation-induced invasiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-661
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Apr 20 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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