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A role for Rac1 activity in malignant progression of sebaceous skin tumors



The small GTPase Rac1 is crucial for maintaining stem cells (SCs) in mammalian epidermis, and Rac1 activation leads to SC expansion. Loss or inhibition of Rac1 correlates with decreased frequency of skin cancer formation in a chemical carcinogenesis model. Here, we have addressed whether Rac1 activation would enhance carcinogenesis and result in tumor progression. We used K14ΔNLef1 mice, a model for differentiated sebaceous adenomas (SAs), and activated Rac1 in an epidermis-specific manner (K14L61Rac1). Surprisingly, Rac1 activation did not change the incidence and frequency of sebaceous tumors. However, tumors, which occurred exclusively in K14ΔNLef1/K14L61Rac1 double-transgenic mice, were poorly differentiated resembling malignant sebaceous tumors and were termed sebaceous carcinoma-like tumors (SCLTs). Compared with SAs, SCLTs showed an aberrant pattern of cell proliferation, invasive growth and less abundant expression of sebocyte differentiation markers, including stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1 and adipophilin. Interestingly, the adnexal SC marker Lrig1 was upregulated in SCLTs, showing that active Rac1 leads to the accumulation of sebocyte precursors in the context of K14ΔNLef1-induced skin tumors. In a search for targets of Rac1, we found cancer progression-related proteins, Dhcr24/Seladin1 and Nuclear protein 1/P8, to be strongly regulated in SCLTs. At last, Rac1 and Dhcr24/Seladin1 were detected in human sebaceous tumors demonstrating a potential high impact of our findings for human skin disease. This is the first study showing that Rac1 activity can lead to malignant progression of skin tumors.

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Figure 1
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guanine nucleotide exchange factor


hair follicle


interfollicular epidermis


keratin 10


keratin 14


stem cell


stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1


sebaceous adenoma


sebaceous carcinoma-like tumor


sebaceous gland.


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We thank Vera Czichowski, Dagmar Fehrenschild, Peter Schettina, Margot Junker and Michael Tscharntke for expert technical support and are grateful for technical support by Wilhelm Bloch and Cornelia Mauch (SFB 829, Z2). This work was funded by the Deutsche Krebshilfe (to CN and CK) and the SFB 829 (A3 to CN, B10 to IH).

Author Contributions

CN and IH designed the experiments. DF, NS, RP, MM, KB, KR and CN performed the experiments and data analysis. CK established and supervised rare cell microarray analysis. TK discussed the data, and IH and CN wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to C Niemann.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Supplementary Information accompanies this paper on the Oncogene website

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Frances, D., Sharma, N., Pofahl, R. et al. A role for Rac1 activity in malignant progression of sebaceous skin tumors. Oncogene 34, 5505–5512 (2015).

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