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Prostate cancer promotes a vicious cycle of bone metastasis progression through inducing osteocytes to secrete GDF15 that stimulates prostate cancer growth and invasion

Oncogene (2019) | Download Citation


Bone is the most frequent site of prostate cancer (PCa) metastasis; however, little is known about the role of the most common cell in bone, the osteocyte (OCy), in cancer biology. In this study we explored the crosstalk between PCa cells and OCys to determine if it contributes to PCa progression. PCa cells induced OCys to promote PCa proliferation, migration and invasion. A chemokine screen revealed that PCa cell induced OCys to produce growth-derived factor 15 (GDF15). Knockdown of GDF15 in OCys demonstrated that PCa cells conferred the ability on OCys to promote PCa proliferation, migration and invasion through GDF15. Consistent with this finding was the observation that the GDF15 receptor, GFRAL, was expressed on multiple PCa cell lines. Transcription factor array screening of PCa cells exposed to OCys with or without knockdown of GDF15 revealed that GDF15 in OCys promoted early growth response 1 (EGR1) expression in the PCa cells. Knockdown of EGR1 expression in PCa cells revealed it was required for the OCy-derived GDF15-mediated induction of in vitro PCa cell proliferation, migration and invasion. Subcutaneous co-injection of PCa cells and OCys into mice revealed that OCys promoted tumor growth in vivo, which was diminished by knockdown of GDF15 in the OCys. Knockdown of GDF15 in the tibiae diminished growth of PCa cancer cells injected into the tibiae, which was accompanied by decreased tumor cell proliferation and EGR1 expression. These results shed light on a novel mechanism through which PCa cells educate OCys to promote progression of PCa bone metastasis. They also suggest that targeting of GDF15-based and EGR1-based signaling pathways should be further explored for their potential to diminish progression of PCa bone metastasis.

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This work was supported by NIH R01-CA190554, NIH P01-CA093900, NSFC Key Project 81130046, NSFC 81773146 and JCYJ20170412154619484.

Author contributions

WW, XY, JD, JZ, and ETK designed the experiments, WW and XY carried out most of the experiments, JD performed the in vivo studies, WW, XY, JD, JZ, and ETK analyzed experimental results, JD and ETK supervised experiments, WW, XY, JD, and ETK wrote the manuscript, JZ and ETK proofread the manuscript.

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Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Wenchu Wang, Xin Yang


  1. Center for Translational Medicine, Guangxi Medical University, Guangxi, 530021, China

    • Wenchu Wang
    • , Xin Yang
    •  & Jian Zhang
  2. Department of Urology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    • Wenchu Wang
    • , Xin Yang
    • , Jinlu Dai
    •  & Evan T. Keller
  3. School of Preclinical Medicine, Guangxi Medical University, Guangxi, China

    • Wenchu Wang
    • , Xin Yang
    •  & Jian Zhang
  4. Key Laboratory of Longevity and Ageing-related Diseases, Ministry of Education, Nanning, Guangxi, China

    • Wenchu Wang
    • , Xin Yang
    •  & Jian Zhang
  5. Southern University of Science and Technology, School of Medicine, Shenzhen, Guangdong, P. R. China

    • Yi Lu
    •  & Jian Zhang
  6. Biointerfaces Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    • Evan T. Keller


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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Evan T. Keller.

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