Loss of the Metastasis Suppressor NME1, But Not of Its Highly Related Isoform NME2, Induces a Hybrid Epithelial–Mesenchymal State in Cancer Cells
Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) is important for the initial steps of metastasis. Although it is well accepted that the nucleoside diphosphate kinase NME1 is a metastasis suppressor, its effect on EMT remains poorly documented, as does that of its closely related isoform, NME2. Here, by using gene silencing, inactivation and overexpression strategies in a variety of cellular models of cancer, we show that NME1 is a powerful inhibitor of EMT. Genetic manipulation of NME2, by contrast, had no effect on the EMT phenotype of cancer cells, indicating a specific function of NME1 in EMT regulation. Loss of NME1 in epithelial cancer cells resulted in a hybrid phenotype intermediate between epithelial and mesenchymal cells, which is known to be associated with cells with a highly metastatic character. Conversely, overexpression of NME1 in mesenchymal cancer cells resulted in a more epithelial phenotype. We found that NME1 expression was negatively associated with EMT markers in many human cancers and was reduced in human breast tumor cell lines with the aggressive ‘triple-negative’ phenotype when compared to human breast tumor cell lines positive for estrogen receptor. We show that NME1, but not NME2, is an inhibitor of essential concerted intracellular signaling pathways involved in inducing EMT, including the AKT and MAPK (ERK, p38, and JNK) pathways. Additionally, NME1 depletion considerably altered the distribution of E-cadherin, a gatekeeper of the epithelial phenotype, shifting it from the plasma membrane to the cytosol and resulting in less E-cadherin on the cell surface than in control cells. Functional aggregation and dispersion assays demonstrated that inactivation of NME1 decreases E-cadherin-mediated cell–cell adhesion. We conclude that NME1, but not NME2, acts specifically to inhibit EMT and prevent the earliest stages of metastasis.