Metastatic tumor cells originating from cancers of a variety of tissues such as breast, skin, and prostate may remain dormant for long periods of time. In the case of uveal melanoma, the principal malignancy of the eye, complete removal of the primary tumor by enucleation can nonetheless be followed by metastatic tumor growth in distant organs months, years, or even decades later. This suggests that tumor cells have already spread to secondary sites at the time of treatment and remain dormant as micrometastases. Identifying factors that govern long-lived survival of metastatic tumor cells is therefore key to decreasing mortality associated with this and other diseases. While investigating factors differentially expressed in melanoma cells and normal melanocytes, we identified the receptor tyrosine kinase Axl and found up-regulation of Axl in uveal melanomas and melanoma cell lines by RNase protection, Western analysis, and immunohistochemistry. Axl has been shown to mediate cell growth and survival through its ligand Gas6 in non-transformed cells. To test whether stimulation of Axl can enhance survival of uveal melanoma cells, we assessed the degree of mitogenesis and cell survival by bromodeoxyuridine incorporation and trypan blue exclusion, respectively, upon stimulation of Mel 290 uveal melanoma cells with Gas6 in vitro. We show that Gas6 mediates mitogenesis and cell survival in Mel 290 cells. We further demonstrate that these effects occur specifically through the Axl receptor by modulating the expression of Axl with an antisense construct. cDNA microarray analysis of 12,687 genes then revealed that Gas6 stimulation of Axl in Mel 290 cells results primarily in the down-regulation of Cyr61, a member of the CCN protein family involved in tumor progression. These data show that the Axl pathway mediates increased survival of uveal melanoma cells, potentially advantageous during cancer dormancy, and that Axl may function in part through regulation of Cyr61.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research