The four-and-a-half LIM (FHL) proteins belong to a family of LIM-only proteins that regulate cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. The exact functions of each FHL protein in cancer development and progression remain unknown. Here we report that FHL1, FHL2, and FHL3 physically and functionally interact with Smad2, Smad3, and Smad4, important regulators of cancer development and progression, in a TGF-β–independent manner. Casein kinase 1δ, but not the TGF-β receptor, was required for the FHL-mediated TGF-β–like responses, including increased phosphorylation of Smad2/3, interaction of Smad2/3 and Smad4, nuclear accumulation of Smad proteins, activation of the tumor suppressor gene p21, and repression of the oncogene c-myc. FHL1–3 inhibited anchorage-dependent and -independent growth of a human hepatoma cell line in vitro and tumor formation in nude mice. Further analysis of clinical samples revealed that FHL proteins are often downregulated in hepatocellular carcinomas and that this correlates with decreased TGF-β–like responses. By establishing a link between FHL proteins and Smad proteins, this study identifies what we believe to be a novel TGF-β–like signaling pathway and indicates that FHL proteins may be useful molecular targets for cancer therapy.
Lihua Ding, Zhaoyun Wang, Jinghua Yan, Xiao Yang, Aijun Liu, Weiyi Qiu, Jianhua Zhu, Juqiang Han, Hao Zhang, Jing Lin, Long Cheng, Xi Qin, Chang Niu, Bin Yuan, Xiaohui Wang, Cui Zhu, Yan Zhou, Jiezhi Li, Haifeng Song, Cuifen Huang, Qinong Ye