Autophagy inhibition specifically promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition and invasion in RAS-mutated cancer cells

Macroautophagy/autophagy inhibition is a novel anticancer therapeutic strategy, especially for tumors driven by mutant RAS. Here, we demonstrate that autophagy inhibition in RAS-mutated cells induces epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which is associated with enhanced tumor invasion. This is at least partially achieved by triggering the NFKB/NF-κB pathway via SQSTM1/p62. Knockdown of ATG3 or ATG5 increases oncogenic RAS-induced expression of ZEB1 and SNAI2/Snail2, and activates NFKB activity. Depletion of SQSTM1 abolishes the activation of the NFKB pathway induced by autophagy inhibition in RAS-mutated cells. NFKB pathway inhibition by depletion of RELA/p65 blocks this EMT induction. Finally, accumulation of SQSTM1 protein correlates with loss of CDH1/E-cadherin expression in pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Together, we suggest that combining autophagy inhibition with NFKB inhibitors may therefore be necessary to treat RAS-mutated cancer. Abbreviations: 4-OHT: 4-hydroxytamoxifen; DIC: differential interference contrast; EMT: epithelial-mesenchymal transition; ESR: estrogen receptor; MAPK/ERK: mitogen-activated protein kinase; iBMK: immortalized baby mouse kidney epithelial cells; MET: mesenchymal-epithelial transition; PI3K: phosphoinositide 3-kinase; RNAi: RNA interference; TGFB/TGF-β: transforming growth factor beta; TNF: tumor necrosis factor; TRAF6: TNF receptor associated factor 6.