The Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) represents a cellular de-differentiation process that provides cells with the increased plasticity required during embryonic development, tissue remodeling, wound healing and metastasis. Slug and Twist are two key EMT transcription factors (EMT-TFs) that are tightly regulated via ubiquitination and degradation. How Slug and Twist escape degradation and become stabilized in cancer cells remains unclear. One plausible mechanism of Slug and Twist stabilization involves removal of ubiquitin by deubiquitinases (DUBs). In this study, we identified Dub3 as a novel DUB for both Slug and Twist. We further found that Dub3 overexpression increased Slug and Twist protein levels in a dose-dependent manner, whereas Dub3-knockdown decreased their protein levels. Of importance, Dub3 interacted with Slug and Twist and prevented them from degradation, thereby promoting migration, invasion, and cancer stem cell (CSC)-like properties of breast cancer cells. Intriguingly, Dub3 was identified as an early response gene that was upregulated after exposure to inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6, which plays a critical role in the growth and metastasis of breast cancer cells, as well as the maintenance of breast CSCs. We found that Dub3 played an essential role in IL-6 induced EMT through stabilization of Slug and Twist. Our study has uncovered an IL-6-Dub3-Slug/Twist signaling axis during EMT and suggests potential approaches that could target Dub3 to prevent metastatic breast tumor.

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Published in Oncotarget, v. 8, no. 43. p. 75127-75140.

Copyright: Lin et al.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0 (CC BY 3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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This research was supported by the Shared Resources of the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center (P30CA177558). This work was also supported by grants from NIH (CA125454 and CA188118), DoD (BC140733P1), Mary Kay Ash Foundation, the Frankfort Country Club’s Ladies Golf Association (to B.P. Zhou), and American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award (RSG13187) and NIH (P20GM121327) (to Y Wu).