Molecular endocrinology (Baltimore, Md.)

Mammalian Ste20-like kinase 4 promotes pituitary cell proliferation and survival under hypoxia.

PMID 25650755


The genetic and molecular mechanisms that initiate and maintain pituitary tumorigenesis are poorly understood. Nonfunctioning tumors of the gonadotrope lineage represent 35% of all tumors; are usually macroadenomas, often resulting in hypopituitarism; and have no medical treatments. Using expression microarrays combined with whole-genome copy number screens on individual human tumors, we identified the mammalian sterile-20-like kinase (MST4) transcript, which was amplified within chromosome Xq26.2 in one tumor and up-regulated in all gonadotrope tumor samples. MST4 mRNA and protein were consistently overexpressed in human tumors compared with normal pituitaries. To mimic the pituitary tumor microenvironment, a hypoxia model using LβT2 murine gonadotrope cells was created to examine the functional role of the kinase. During long-term hypoxia, MST4 expression increased colony formation in a soft agar assay and rates of cell proliferation by activating p38 MAPK and AKT. Under short-term severe hypoxic stress, MST4 decreased the rates of apoptosis via p38 MAPK, AKT, hypoxia-inducible factor-1, and its cell-specific downstream targets. Analysis of MST4 mutants confirmed the importance of the kinase sequence but not the regulatory C terminus for its functional effects. Together these data identify the MST4 kinase as a novel candidate to mediate human pituitary tumorigenesis in a hypoxic environment and position it as a potential therapeutic target.