PloS one

Mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 4 (MAP2K4) promotes human prostate cancer metastasis.

PMID 25019290


Prostate cancer (PCa) is the second leading cause of cancer death in the US. Death from PCa primarily results from metastasis. Mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 4 (MAP2K4) is overexpressed in invasive PCa lesions in humans, and can be inhibited by small molecule therapeutics that demonstrate favorable activity in phase II studies. However, MAP2K4's role in regulating metastatic behavior is controversial and unknown. To investigate, we engineered human PCa cell lines which overexpress either wild type or constitutive active MAP2K4. Orthotopic implantation into mice demonstrated MAP2K4 increases formation of distant metastasis. Constitutive active MAP2K4, though not wild type, increases tumor size and circulating tumor cells in the blood and bone marrow. Complementary in vitro studies establish stable MAP2K4 overexpression promotes cell invasion, but does not affect cell growth or migration. MAP2K4 overexpression increases the expression of heat shock protein 27 (HSP27) protein and protease production, with the largest effect upon matrix metalloproteinase 2 (MMP-2), both in vitro and in mouse tumor samples. Further, MAP2K4-mediated increases in cell invasion are dependent upon heat shock protein 27 (HSP27) and MMP-2, but not upon MAP2K4's immediate downstream targets, p38 MAPK or JNK. We demonstrate that MAP2K4 increases human PCa metastasis, and prolonged over expression induces long term changes in cell signaling pathways leading to independence from p38 MAPK and JNK. These findings provide a mechanistic explanation for human studies linking increases in HSP27 and MMP-2 to progression to metastatic disease. MAP2K4 is validated as an important therapeutic target for inhibiting human PCa metastasis.