Loss of MKK4 expression in ovarian cancer: A potential role for the epithelial to mesenchymal transition



In the current study, we investigated the mechanism relating downregulation of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 4 (MKK4) expression to development of ovarian cancer. Over-expression of the MKK4 gene in TOV-21 G cells, a line with homozygous deletion of MKK4, resulted in morphologic changes in which cells growing in a scattered, fibroblast-like pattern formed tightly packed colonies. Based on a wound healing assay and a Matrigel invasion assay, we determined that both motility and invasiveness of MKK4-transfected TOV-21G cells were significantly reduced compared to control vector-transfected cells. To confirm that MKK4 expression related to tumor invasion resulted from an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT)-like morphological change, we used 2 independent but complementary approaches. MKK4 gene knockdown in MDAH 2774 cells over-expressing MKK4 increased invasion activity. Additionally, engineered expression of MKK4 in SKOV3 cells, a line with low endogenous MKK4 expression, produced a phenotype similar to that of TOVG-21G. Interestingly, we found that MKK4 upregulation caused downregulation of phosphorylated NF-κB and Twist, as well as upregulation of E-cadherin, in TOVG-21G and SKOV3 cells. Reciprocal results were obtained in MDAH 2774 cells with MKK4 knockdown. Our results suggest that MKK4 downregulation causes increased phosphorylation NF-κB. This promotes Twist over-expression, resulting in E-cadherin downregulation that induces EMT in ovarian cancer.