MUC1-C overexpression has been associated with the progression of pancreatic tumors by promoting the aggressive and metastatic phenotypes. As MUC1 is a STAT3 target gene, STAT3 plays a major role in regulating MUC1-C expression. In this study, we report an alternative mechanism by which integrin-linked kinase (ILK) post-transcriptionally modulates the expression of MUC1-C by maintaining its protein stability in pancreatic cancer cells. We found that ILK acts in concert with STAT3 to facilitate IL-6-mediated upregulation of MUC1-C; ILK depletion was equally effective as STAT3 depletion in abolishing IL-6-induced MUC1-C overexpression without disturbing the phosphorylation or cellular distribution of STAT3. Conversely, ectopic expression of constitutively active ILK increased MUC1-C expression, though this increase was not noted with kinase-dead ILK. This finding suggests the requirement of the kinase activity of ILK in regulating MUC1-C stability, which was confirmed by using the ILK kinase inhibitor T315. Furthermore, our data suggest the involvement of protein kinase C (PKC)δ in mediating the suppressive effect of ILK inhibition on MUC1-C repression. For example, co-immunoprecipitation analysis indicated that ILK depletion-mediated MUC1-C phosphorylation was accompanied by increased phosphorylation of PKCδ at the activation loop Thr-507 and increased binding of PKCδ to MUC1-C. Conversely, ILK overexpression resulted in decreased PKCδ phosphorylation. From a mechanistic perspective, the present finding, together with our recent report that ILK controls the expression of oncogenic KRAS through a regulatory loop, underscores the pivotal role of ILK in promoting pancreatic cancer progression.
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