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Abstract

The antiapoptotic protein Bcl-2 plays multiple roles in apoptosis, immunity, and autophagy. Its expression in tumors correlates with tumor grade and malignancy. The recapitulation of the normal developmental process of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) contributes to tumor cell plasticity. This process is also a characteristic of metastatic cells and vasculogenic mimicry. In the present study we report functional and structural interactions between Bcl-2 and the EMT-regulating transcription factor Twist1 and the relationship with metastasis and vascular mimicry. Bcl-2 and Twist1 are coexpressed under hypoxia conditions. The Bcl-2 can bind to Twist1 in vivo and in vitro. This interaction involves basic helix-loop-helix DNA binding domain within Twist1 and through two separate domains within Bcl-2 protein. Formation of the Bcl-2/Twist1 complex facilitates the nuclear transport of Twist1 and leads to transcriptional activation of wide ranges of genes that can increase the tumor cell plasticity, metastasis, and vasculogenic mimicry. Finally, nuclear expression of Bcl-2 and Twist1 is correlated with poor survival of these patients in a cohort of 97 cases of human hepatocellular carcinoma. Conclusion: The results describe a novel function of Bcl-2 in EMT induction, provide insight into tumor progression, and implicate the Bcl-2/Twist1 complex as a potential target for developing chemotherapeutics. (HEPATOLOGY 2011;)