Extracellular matrix (ECM)-induced β1-integrin-FAK signaling promotes cell attachment, survival, and migration of cancer cells in a distant organ so as to enable cancer metastasis. However, mechanisms governing activation of the β1-integrin-FAK signaling remain incompletely understood. Here, we report that vasodilator-stimulated phosphoprotein (VASP), an actin binding protein, is required for ECM–mediated β1-integrin-FAK-YAP1/TAZ signaling in gastrointestinal (GI) cancer cells and their liver metastasis. In patient-derived samples, VASP is upregulated in 53 of 63 colorectal cancers and 43 of 53 pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas and high VASP levels correlate with liver metastasis and reduced patient survival. In a Matrigel-based 3-dimensional (3D) culture model, short hairpin RNA (shRNA)–mediated VASP knockdown in colorectal cancer cells (KM12L4, HCT116, and HT29) and pancreatic cancer cells (L3.6 and MIA PaCa-1) suppresses the growth of 3D cancer spheroids. Mechanistic studies reveal that VASP knockdown suppresses FAK phosphorylation and YAP1/TAZ protein levels, but not Akt or Erk-related pathways and that YAP1/TAZ proteins are enhanced by the β1-integrin-FAK signaling. Additionally, VASP regulates the β1-integrin-FAK-YAP1/TAZ signaling by at least two mechanisms: (1) promoting ECM-mediated β1-integrin activation and (2) regulating YAP1/TAZ dephosphorylation at downstream of RhoA to enhance the stability of YAP1/TAZ proteins. In agreement with these, preclinical studies with two experimental liver metastasis mouse models demonstrate that VASP knockdown suppresses GI cancer liver metastasis, β1-integrin activation, and YAP1/TAZ levels of metastatic cancer cells. Together, our data support VASP as a treatment target for liver metastasis of colorectal and pancreatic cancers.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors wish to thank Dr. Debabrata Mukhopadhyay at Mayo Clinic for providing critical reagents. NIH grants R01 CA160069 to N. Kang and R01 DK052913 to Urrutia Raul, and a startup fund to N. Kang at the Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota.
© The Author(s) 2018.