Nature cell biology

A20 promotes metastasis of aggressive basal-like breast cancers through multi-monoubiquitylation of Snail1.

PMID 28892081


Although the ubiquitin-editing enzyme A20 is a key player in inflammation and autoimmunity, its role in cancer metastasis remains unknown. Here we show that A20 monoubiquitylates Snail1 at three lysine residues and thereby promotes metastasis of aggressive basal-like breast cancers. A20 is significantly upregulated in human basal-like breast cancers and its expression level is inversely correlated with metastasis-free patient survival. A20 facilitates TGF-β1-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of breast cancer cells through multi-monoubiquitylation of Snail1. Monoubiquitylated Snail1 has reduced affinity for glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β), and is thus stabilized in the nucleus through decreased phosphorylation. Knockdown of A20 or overexpression of Snail1 with mutation of the monoubiquitylated lysine residues into arginine abolishes lung metastasis in mouse xenograft and orthotopic breast cancer models, indicating that A20 and monoubiquitylated Snail1 are required for metastasis. Our findings uncover an essential role of the A20-Snail1 axis in TGF-β1-induced EMT and metastasis of basal-like breast cancers.