RANK- and c-Met-mediated signal network promotes prostate cancer metastatic colonization
Prostate cancer (PCa) metastasis to bone is lethal and there is no adequate animal model to study the mechanisms underlying the metastatic process. Here we report that receptor activator of NF-κB ligand (RANKL) expressed by PCa cells consistently induced colonization or metastasis to bone in animal models. RANK-mediated signaling established a premetastatic niche through a feed forward loop, involving the induction of RANKL and c-Met, but repression of androgen receptor (AR) expression and AR signaling pathways. Site-directed mutagenesis and transcription factor deletion/interference assays identified common transcription factor complexes (TFs), c-Myc/Max and AP4, as critical regulatory nodes. RANKL-RANK signaling activated a number of master regulator TFs that control the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) (Twist1, Slug, Zeb1, Zeb2), stem cell properties (Sox2, Myc, Oct3/4 and Nanog), neuroendocrine differentiation (Sox 9, HIF-1α and FoxA2) and osteomimicry (c-Myc/Max, Sox2, Sox9, HIF1α and Runx2). Abrogating RANK or its downstream c-Myc/Max or c-Met signaling network, minimized or abolished skeletal metastasis in mice. RANKL-expressing LNCaP cells recruited and induced neighboring non-tumorigenic LNCaP cells to express RANKL, c-Met/activated c-Met, while downregulating AR expression. These initially non-tumorigenic cells, once retrieved from the tumors, acquired the potential to colonize and grow in bone. These findings identify a novel mechanism of tumor growth in bone that involves tumor cell reprogramming via RANK-RANKL signaling, as well as a form of signal amplification that mediates recruitment and stable transformation of non-metastatic cells.