Theranostics 2018; 8(3):676-692. doi:10.7150/thno.21463

Research Paper

AKR1C1 Activates STAT3 to Promote the Metastasis of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Hong ZHU*, Lin-Lin CHANG*, Fang-Jie YAN, Yan HU, Chen-Ming ZENG, Tian-Yi ZHOU, Tao YUAN, Mei-Dan YING, Ji CAO, Qiao-Jun HE, Bo YANG

Zhejiang Province Key Laboratory of Anti-Cancer Drug Research, College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou China
* These authors contributed equally to this study.


Metastasis is the leading cause of mortality for human non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, it is difficult to target tumor metastasis because the molecular mechanisms underlying NSCLC invasion and migration remain unclear. Methods: GEO data analyses and IHC analyses were performed to identify that the expression level of AKR1C1, a member of human aldo-keto reductase family, was highly elevated in patients with metastasis or metastatic foci of NSCLC patients. Functional analyses (in vitro and in vivo) and quantitative genomic analyses were preformed to confirm the pro-metastatic effects of AKR1C1 and the underlying mechanisms. The correlation of AKR1C1 with the prognosis of NSCLC patients was evaluated using Kaplan-Meier analyses. Results: in NSCLC patients, AKR1C1 expression was closely correlated with the metastatic potential of tumors. AKR1C1 overexpression in nonmetastatic cancer cells significantly promoted metastasis both in vitro and in vivo, whereas depletion of AKR1C1 in highly metastatic tumors potently alleviated these effects. Quantitative genomic and functional analyses revealed that AKR1C1 directly interacted with STAT3 and facilitated its phosphorylation—thus reinforcing the binding of STAT3 to the promoter regions of target genes—and then transactivated these genes, which ultimately promoted tumor metastasis. Further studies showed that AKR1C1 might facilitate the interaction of STAT3 with its upstream kinase JAK2. Intriguingly, AKR1C1 exerted these pro-metastatic effects in a catalytic-independent manner. In addition, a significant correlation between AKR1C1 and STAT3 pathway was observed in the metastatic foci of NSCLC patients, and the AKR1C1-STAT3 levels were highly correlated with a poor prognosis in NSCLC patients. Conclusions: taken together, we show that AKR1C1 is a potent inducer of NSCLC metastasis. Our study uncovers the active function of AKR1C1 as a key component of the STAT3 pathway, which promotes lung cancer metastasis, and highlights a candidate therapeutic target to potentially improve the survival of NSCLC patients with metastatic disease.

Keywords: AKR1C1, Metastasis, Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer, STAT3.

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How to cite this article:
ZHU H, CHANG LL, YAN FJ, HU Y, ZENG CM, ZHOU TY, YUAN T, YING MD, CAO J, HE QJ, YANG B. AKR1C1 Activates STAT3 to Promote the Metastasis of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. Theranostics 2018; 8(3):676-692. doi:10.7150/thno.21463. Available from