All trans retinoic acid (atRA) is one of the most potent therapeutic agents, but extensive toxicity caused by nuclear RA receptors (RARs) limits its clinical application in treating cancer. AtRA also exerts non-genomic activities for which the mechanism remains poorly understood. We determine that cellular retinoic acid binding protein 1 (Crabp1) mediates the non-genomic activity of atRA, and identify two compounds as the ligands of Crabp1 to rapidly and RAR-independently activate extracellular signal regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2). Non-canonically activated ERK activates protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) and lengthens cell cycle duration in embryonic stem cells (ESC). This is abolished in Crabp1-null ESCs. Re-expressing Crabp1 in Crabp1-negative cancer cells also sensitizes their apoptotic induction by atRA. This study reveals a physiological relevance of the non-genomic action of atRA, mediated by Crabp1, in modulating cell cycle progression and apoptosis induction, and provides a new cancer therapeutic strategy whereby compounds specifically targeting Crabp1 can modulate cell cycle and cancer cell apoptosis in a RAR-independent fashion, thereby avoiding atRA's toxicity caused by its genomic effects.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by DK54733, DK60521, DK54733-11S, Dean’s Commitment, and the Distinguished McKnight Professorship of University of Minnesota to LNW, and JSPS Core-to-Core Program, an Advanced Research Network, Japan to HK. We thank S. Ogokeh, Q. Ma, and J. Nhieu for technical assistance.