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Title: LIMK2-NKX3.1 Engagement Promotes Castration Resistant Prostate Cancer
NKX3.1’s downregulation is strongly associated with prostate cancer (PCa) initiation, progression, and CRPC development. Nevertheless, a clear disagreement exists between NKX3.1 protein and mRNA levels in PCa tissues, indicating that its regulation at a post-translational level plays a vital role. This study identified a strong negative relationship between NKX3.1 and LIMK2, which is critical in CRPC pathogenesis. We identified that NKX3.1 degradation by direct phosphorylation by LIMK2 is crucial for promoting oncogenicity in CRPC cells and in vivo. LIMK2 also downregulates NKX3.1 mRNA levels. In return, NKX3.1 promotes LIMK2’s ubiquitylation. Thus, the negative crosstalk between LIMK2-NKX3.1 regulates AR, ARv7, and AKT signaling, promoting aggressive phenotypes. We also provide a new link between NKX3.1 and PTEN, both of which are downregulated by LIMK2. PTEN loss is strongly linked with NKX3.1 downregulation. As NKX3.1 is a prostate-specific tumor suppressor, preserving its levels by LIMK2 inhibition provides a tremendous opportunity for developing targeted therapy in CRPC. Further, as NKX3.1 downregulates AR transcription and inhibits AKT signaling, restoring its levels by inhibiting LIMK2 is expected to be especially beneficial by co-targeting two driver pathways in tandem, a highly desirable requisite for developing effective PCa therapeutics.
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Saleem, M.
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National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract Background

    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 »downstream effectors offer an alternative route to inhibit AURKA and upregulate NKX3.1 in highly fatal CRPC and NEPC. AURKA and NKX3.1 have not linked to each other in any study to date.


    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.

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