NKX3.1, a prostate-specific tumor suppressor, is either genomically lost or its protein levels are severely downregulated, which are invariably associated with poor prognosis in prostate cancer (PCa). Nevertheless, a clear disconnect exists between its mRNA and protein levels, indicating that its post-translational regulation may be critical in maintaining its protein levels. Similarly, AURKA is vastly overexpressed in all stages of prostate cancer (PCa), including castration-resistant PCa (CRPC) and neuroendocrine PCa (NEPC), although its transcripts are only increased in ~ 15% of cases, hinting at additional mechanisms of deregulation. Thus, identifying the upstream regulators that control AURKA and NKX3.1’s levels and/or theirmore »
A chemical genetic screen revealed NKX3.1 as a direct target of AURKA. AURKA-NKX3.1 cross-talk was analyzed using several biochemical techniques in CRPC and NEPC cells.
We uncovered a reciprocal loop between AURKA and NKX3.1 in CRPC and NEPC cells. We observed that AURKA-mediated NKX3.1 downregulation is a major mechanism that drives CRPC pathogenesis and NEPC differentiation. AURKA phosphorylates NKX3.1 at three sites, which degrades it, but AURKA does not regulate NKX3.1 mRNA levels. NKX3.1 degradation drives highly aggressive oncogenic phenotypes in cells. NKX3.1 also degrades AURKA in a feedback loop. NKX3.1-AURKA loop thus upregulates AKT, ARv7 and Androgen Receptor (AR)-signaling in tandem promoting highly malignant phenotypes. Just as importantly, we observed that NKX3.1 overexpression fully abolished synaptophysin and enolase expression in NEPC cells, uncovering a strong negative relationship between NKX3.1 and neuroendocrine phenotypes, which was further confirmed be measuring neurite outgrowth. While WT-NKX3.1 inhibited neuronal differentiation, 3A-NKX3.1 expression obliterated it.
NKX3.1 loss could be a major mechanism causing AURKA upregulation in CRPC and NEPC and vice versa. NKX3.1 genomic loss requires gene therapy, nonetheless, targeting AURKA provides a powerful tool to maintain NKX3.1 levels. Conversely, when NKX3.1 upregulation strategy using small molecules comes to fruition, AURKA inhibition should work synergistically due to the reciprocal loop in these highly aggressive incurable diseases.