PloS one

NF-κB regulates mesenchymal transition for the induction of non-small cell lung cancer initiating cells.

PMID 23935876


The epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a de-differentiation process that has been implicated in metastasis and the generation of cancer initiating cells (CICs) in solid tumors. To examine EMT in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), we utilized a three dimensional (3D) cell culture system in which cells were co-stimulated with tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF) and transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ). NSCLC spheroid cultures display elevated expression of EMT master-switch transcription factors, TWIST1, SNAI1/Snail1, SNAI2/Slug and ZEB2/Sip1, and are highly invasive. Mesenchymal NSCLC cultures show CIC characteristics, displaying elevated expression of transcription factors KLF4, SOX2, POU5F1/Oct4, MYCN, and KIT. As a result, these putative CIC display a cancer "stem-like" phenotype by forming lung metastases under limiting cell dilution. The pleiotropic transcription factor, NF-κB, has been implicated in EMT and metastasis. Thus, we set out to develop a NSCLC model to further characterize the role of NF-κB activation in the development of CICs. Here, we demonstrate that induction of EMT in 3D cultures results in constitutive NF-κB activity. Furthermore, inhibition of NF-κB resulted in the loss of TWIST1, SNAI2, and ZEB2 induction, and a failure of cells to invade and metastasize. Our work indicates that NF-κB is required for NSCLC metastasis, in part, by transcriptionally upregulating master-switch transcription factors required for EMT.