1. State Key Laboratory of Cancer Biology, National Clinical Research Center for Digestive Diseases and Xijing Hospital of Digestive Diseases, Fourth Military Medical University, Xi'an 710032, Shaanxi Province, China
2. Department of Gastroenterology, Institute of Liver and Gastrointestinal Diseases, Hubei Key Laboratory of Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Diseases, Tongji Hospital of Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan 430030, Hubei Province, China
3. Hepatic Surgery Center, Tongji Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology; Clinical Medicine Research Center for Hepatic Surgery of Hubei Province; Key Laboratory of Organ Transplantation, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Public Health, Wuhan, Hubei, 430030, China
#These authors contributed equally to this work.
Background: Metastasis accounts for the high lethality of colorectal cancer (CRC) patients. Unfortunately, the molecular mechanism manipulating metastasis in CRC is still elusive. Here, we investigated the function of E74-like factor 4 (ELF4), an ETS family member, in facilitating CRC progression.
Methods: The expression of ELF4 in human CRC samples and CRC cell lines was determined by quantitative real-time PCR, immunohistochemistry and immunoblotting. The migratory and invasive phenotypes of CRC cells were evaluated by in vitro transwell assays and in vivo metastatic models. The RNA sequencing was used to explore the downstream targets of ELF4. The luciferase reporter assays and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays were used to ascertain the transcriptional regulation related to ELF4.
Results: We found elevated ELF4 was positively correlated with distant metastasis, advanced AJCC stages, and dismal outcomes in CRC patients. ELF4 expression was also an independent predictor of poor prognosis. Overexpression of ELF4 boosted CRC metastasis via transactivating its downstream target genes, fibroblast growth factor receptor 4 (FGFR4) and SRC proto-oncogene, non-receptor tyrosine kinase, SRC. Fibroblast growth factor 19 (FGF19) upregulated ELF4 expression through the ERK1/2/SP1 axis. Clinically, ELF4 expression had a positive correlation with FGF19, FGFR4 and SRC, and CRC patients who positively coexpressed FGF19/ELF4, ELF4/FGFR4, or ELF4/SRC exhibited the worst clinical outcomes. Furthermore, the combination of the FGFR4 inhibitor BLU-554 and the SRC inhibitor KX2-391 dramatically suppressed ELF4-mediated CRC metastasis.
Conclusions: We demonstrated the essentiality of ELF4 in the metastatic process of CRC, and targeting the ELF4-relevant positive feedback circuit might represent a novel therapeutic strategy.
Keywords: E74-like factor 4, Colorectal cancer, Metastasis, Fibroblast growth factor receptor 4, BLU-554