de Miranda NF, van Dinther M, van den Akker BE, van Wezel T, ten Dijke P, Morreau H
Gastroenterology 148 (7) 1427-37.e8 [2015-06-00; online 2015-02-28]
Most colorectal cancer (CRC) cells with high levels of microsatellite instability (MSI-H) accumulate mutations at a microsatellite sequence in the gene encoding transforming growth factor β receptor II (TGFBR2). TGFβ signaling therefore is believed to be defective in these tumors, although CRC cells with TGFBR2 mutations have been reported to remain sensitive to TGFβ. We investigated how TGFβ signaling might continue in MSI-H CRC cells. We sequenced the 10-adenines microsatellite sequence in the TGFBR2 gene of 32 MSI-H colon cancer tissues and 6 cell lines (HCT116, LS180, LS411N, RKO, SW48, and SW837). Activation of TGFβ signaling was detected by SMAD2 phosphorylation and through use of a TGFβ-responsive reporter construct in all CRC cell lines. Transcripts of TGFBR2 were knocked-down in CRC cells using short hairpin RNA. Full-length and mutant forms of TGFBR2 were expressed in LS411N cells, which do not respond to TGFβ, and their activities were measured. SMAD2 was phosphorylated in most MSI-H CRC tissues (strong detection in 44% and weak detection in 34% of MSI-H tumors). Phosphorylation of SMAD2 in MSI-H cells required TGFBR2—even the form encoding a frameshift mutation. Transcription and translation of TGFBR2 with a 1-nucleotide deletion at its microsatellite sequence still produced a full-length TGFBR2 protein. However, protein expression required preservation of the TGFBR2 microsatellite sequence; cells in which this sequence was replaced with a synonymous nonmicrosatellite sequence did not produce functional TGFBR2 protein. TGFβ signaling remains active in some MSI-H CRC cells despite the presence of frameshift mutations in the TGFBR2 gene because the mutated gene still expresses a functional protein. Strategies to reactivate TGFβ signaling in colorectal tumors might not be warranted, and the functional effects of mutations at other regions of microsatellite instability should be evaluated.