Impact of RARα and miR-138 on retinoblastoma etoposide resistance

Background: Retinoblastoma (RB) is the most common childhood eye cancer. Chemotherapeutic drugs such as etoposide used in RB treatment often cause massive side effects and acquired drug resistances. Dysregulated genes and miRNAs have a large impact on cancer progression and development of chemotherapy resistances.

Objective: This study was designed to investigate the involvement of retinoic acid receptor alpha (RARα) in RB progression and chemoresistance as well as the impact of miR-138, a potential RARα regulating miRNA.

Methods: RARα and miR-138 expression in etoposide resistant RB cell lines and chemotherapy treated patient tumors compared to non-treated tumors was revealed by Real-Time PCR. Overexpression approaches were performed to analyze the effects of RARα on RB cell viability, apoptosis, proliferation and tumorigenesis. Besides, we addressed the effect of miR-138 overexpression on RB cell chemotherapy resistance.

Results: A binding between miR-138 and RARα was shown by dual luciferase reporter gene assay. The study presented revealed that RARα is downregulated in etoposide resistant RB cells, while miR-138 is endogenously upregulated. Opposing RARα and miR-138 expression levels were detectable in chemotherapy pre-treated compared to non-treated RB tumor specimen. Overexpression of RARα increases apoptosis levels and reduces tumor cell growth of aggressive etoposide resistant RB cells in vitro and in vivo. Overexpression of miR-138 in chemo-sensitive RB cell lines partly enhances cell viability after etoposide treatment.

Conclusions: Our findings show that RARα acts as a tumor suppressor in retinoblastoma and is downregulated upon etoposide resistance in RB cells. Thus, RARα may contribute to the development and progression of RB chemo-resistance.

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