Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most common malignant tumors worldwide and understanding its underlying molecular mechanisms is crucial for the development of therapeutic strategies. The mitogen-activated protein kinase-kinase 3 (MKK3) is a specific activator of p38 MAP kinases (p38 MAPKs), which contributes to the regulation of several cellular functions, such as proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis as well as response to drugs. At present, the exact MKK3/p38 MAPK pathway contribution in cancer is heavily debated because of its pleiotropic function. In this work, we retrospectively explored the prognostic and pathobiologic relevance of MKK3 in a cohort of CRC patients and assessed MKK3 molecular functions in a panel of CRC lines and colonocytes primary cultures. We found increased MKK3 levels in late-stage CRC patients which correlated with shorter overall survival. Herein, we report that the MKK3 targeting by inducible RNA interference univocally exerts antitumor effects in CRC lines but not in primary colonocytes. While MKK3 depletion per se affects growth and survival by induction of sustained autophagy and death in some CRC lines, it potentiates response to chemotherapeutic drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) in all of the tested CRC lines in vitro. Here, we demonstrate for the first time that in CRC the MKK3 specifically activates p38delta MAPK isoform to sustain prosurvival signaling and that such effect is exacerbated upon 5-FU challenge. Indeed, p38delta MAPK silencing recapitulates MKK3 depletion effects in CRC cells in vitro and in vivo. Overall, our data identified a molecular mechanism through which MKK3 supports proliferation and survival signaling in CRC, further supporting MKK3 as a novel and extremely attractive therapeutic target for the development of promising strategies for the management of CRC patients.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology
- Cancer Research