Epithelial tumor cells undergo epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) to gain metastatic activity. Competing endogenous RNAs (ceRNAs) have binding sites for a common set of microRNAs (miRs) and regulate each other’s expression by sponging miRs. Here, we address whether ceRNAs govern metastasis driven by the EMT-activating transcription factor ZEB1. High miR-181b levels were correlated with an improved prognosis in human lung adenocarcinomas, and metastatic tumor cell lines derived from a murine lung adenocarcinoma model in which metastasis is ZEB1-driven were enriched in miR-181b targets. ZEB1 relieved a strong basal repression of α1 integrin (ITGA1) mRNA, which in turn upregulated adenylyl cyclase 9 mRNA (ADCY9) by sponging miR181b. Ectopic expression of the ITGA1 3′-untranslated region reversed miR-181b–mediated metastasis suppression and increased the levels of adenylyl cyclase 9 protein (AC9), which promoted tumor cell migration and metastasis. In human lung adenocarcinomas, ITGA1 and ADCY9 levels were positively correlated, and an AC9-activated transcriptomic signature had poor-prognostic value. Thus, ZEB1 initiates a miR-181b–regulated ceRNA network to drive metastasis.


Xiaochao Tan, Priyam Banerjee, Xin Liu, Jiang Yu, Don L. Gibbons, Ping Wu, Kenneth L. Scott, Lixia Diao, Xiaofeng Zheng, Jing Wang, Ali Jalali, Milind Suraokar, Junya Fujimoto, Carmen Behrens, Xiuping Liu, Chang-gong Liu, Chad J. Creighton, Ignacio I. Wistuba, Jonathan M. Kurie


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