A MAPK-driven feedback loop suppresses Rac activity to promote RhoA-driven cancer cell invasion

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Cell migration in 3D microenvironments is fundamental to development, homeostasis and the pathobiology of diseases such as cancer. Rab-coupling protein (RCP) dependent co-trafficking of α5β1 and EGFR1 promotes cancer cell invasion into fibronectin (FN) containing extracellular matrix (ECM), by potentiating EGFR1 signalling at the front of invasive cells. This promotes a switch in RhoGTPase signalling to inhibit Rac1 and activate a RhoA-ROCK-Formin homology domain-containing 3 (FHOD3) pathway and generate filopodial actin-spike protrusions which drive invasion. To further understand the signalling network that drives RCP-driven invasive migration, we generated a Boolean logical model based on existing network pathways/models, where each node can be interrogated by computational simulation. The model predicted an unanticipated feedback loop, whereby Raf/MEK/ERK signalling maintains suppression of Rac1 by inhibiting the Rac-activating Sos1-Eps8-Abi1 complex, allowing RhoA activity to predominate in invasive protrusions. MEK inhibition was sufficient to promote lamellipodia formation and oppose filopodial actin-spike formation, and led to activation of Rac and inactivation of RhoA at the leading edge of cells moving in 3D matrix. Furthermore, MEK inhibition abrogated RCP/α5β1/EGFR1-driven invasive migration. However, upon knockdown of Eps8 (to suppress the Sos1-Abi1-Eps8 complex), MEK inhibition had no effect on RhoGTPase activity and did not oppose invasive migration, suggesting that MEK-ERK signalling suppresses the Rac-activating Sos1-Abi1-Eps8 complex to maintain RhoA activity and promote filopodial actin-spike formation and invasive migration. Our study highlights the predictive potential of mathematical modelling approaches, and demonstrates that a simple intervention (MEK-inhibition) could be of therapeutic benefit in preventing invasive migration and metastasis.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1004909
JournalPL o S Computational Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2016


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