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Colorectal cancer (CRC) patients develop recurrence after chemotherapy owing to the survival of stem cell-like cells referred to as cancer stem-like cells (CSCs). The origin of CSCs is linked to the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) process. Currently, it remains poorly understood how EMT programmes enable CSCs residing in the tumour microenvironment to escape the effects of chemotherapy. This study identifies a key molecular pathway that is responsible for the formation of drug-resistant CSC populations. Using a modified yeast-2-hybrid system and 2D gel-based proteomics methods, we show that the E3-ubiquitin ligase FBXW7 directly binds and degrades the EMT-inducing transcription factor ZEB2 in a phosphorylation-dependent manner. Loss of FBXW7 induces an EMT that can be effectively reversed by knockdown of ZEB2. The FBXW7-ZEB2 axis regulates such important cancer cell features, as stemness/dedifferentiation, chemoresistance and cell migration in vitro, ex vivo and in animal models of metastasis. High expression of ZEB2 in cancer tissues defines the reduced ZEB2 expression in the cancer-associated stroma in patients and in murine intestinal organoids, demonstrating a tumour-stromal crosstalk that modulates a niche and EMT activation. Our study thus uncovers a new molecular mechanism, by which the CRC cells display differences in resistance to chemotherapy and metastatic potential.

Original publication

DOI

10.1038/s41389-019-0125-3

Type

Journal article

Journal

Oncogenesis

Publication Date

19/02/2019

Volume

8