microRNA-93-5p promotes hepatocellular carcinoma progression via a microRNA-93-5p/MAP3K2/c-Jun positive feedback circuit


Cumulative evidence suggests that microRNAs (miRNAs) promote gene expression in cancers. However, the pathophysiologic relevance of miRNA-mediated RNA activation in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) remains to be established. Our previous miRNA expression profiling in seven-paired HCC specimens revealed miR-93-5p as an HCC-related miRNA. In this study, miR-93-5p expression was assessed in HCC tissues and cell lines by quantitative real-time PCR and fluorescence in situ hybridization. The correlation of miR-93-5p expression with survival and clinicopathological features of HCC was determined by statistical analysis. The function and potential mechanism of miR-93-5p in HCC were further investigated by a series of gain- or loss-of-function experiments in vitro and in vivo. We identified that miR-93-5p, overexpressed in HCC specimens and cell lines, leads to poor outcomes in HCC cases and promotes proliferation, migration, and invasion in HCC cell lines. Mechanistically, rather than decreasing target mRNA levels as expected, miR-93-5p binds to the 3′-untranslated region (UTR) of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase 2 (MAP3K2) to directly upregulate its expression and downstream p38 and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) pathway, thereby leading to cell cycle progression in HCC. Notably, we also demonstrated that c-Jun, a downstream effector of the JNK pathway, enhances miR-93-5p transcription by targeting its promoter region. Besides, downregulation of miR-93-5p significantly retarded tumor growth, while overexpression of miR-93-5p accelerated tumor growth in the HCC xenograft mouse model. Altogether, we revealed a miR-93-5p/MAP3K2/c-Jun positive feedback loop to promote HCC progression in vivo and in vitro, representing an RNA-activating role of miR-93-5p in HCC development.

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Fig. 1: miR-93-5p is frequently upregulated in HCC specimens and cell lines.
Fig. 2: miR-93-5p induces cell proliferation, migration, and invasion in human HCC cells.
Fig. 3: miR-93-5p directly targets MAP3K2.
Fig. 4: miR-93-5p regulation is mediated by MAP3K2.
Fig. 5: Transcription factor c-Jun directly improves miR-93-5p transcription by binding its promoter.
Fig. 6: miR-93-5p facilitates tumor growth in a xenograft mouse model.


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This work was partly supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant numbers 81402273, 81672720, 81672334, and 81700550), and by the National Clinical Key Special Subject of China.

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XS, TTL, and XNY data curation, methodology, and writing original draft; AB, HRZ, HYG, GCZ, and EB data curation, formal analysis, and writing review; JLS and GQS investigation, resources, and writing review; SQW and LD investigation, resources, visualization, and writing review; MO conceptualization, and writing review and editing; XZS and JMZ conceptualization, funding acquisition, supervision, and writing review and editing.

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Correspondence to Ji-Min Zhu or Xi-Zhong Shen.

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Shi, X., Liu, T., Yu, X. et al. microRNA-93-5p promotes hepatocellular carcinoma progression via a microRNA-93-5p/MAP3K2/c-Jun positive feedback circuit. Oncogene (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41388-020-01401-0

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