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MUC1 oncoprotein mitigates ER stress via CDA-mediated reprogramming of pyrimidine metabolism


The Mucin 1 (MUC1) protein is overexpressed in various cancers and mediates chemotherapy resistance. However, the mechanism is not fully understood. Given that most chemotherapeutic drugs disrupt ER homeostasis as part of their toxicity, and MUC1 expression is regulated by proteins involved in ER homeostasis, we investigated the link between MUC1 and ER homeostasis. MUC1 knockdown in pancreatic cancer cells enhanced unfolded protein response (UPR) signaling and cell death upon ER stress induction. Transcriptomic analysis revealed alterations in the pyrimidine metabolic pathway and cytidine deaminase (CDA). ChIP and CDA activity assays showed that MUC1 occupied CDA gene promoter upon ER stress induction correlating with increased CDA expression and activity in MUC1-expressing cells as compared with MUC1 knockdown cells. Inhibition of either the CDA or pyrimidine metabolic pathway diminished survival in MUC1-expressing cancer cells upon ER stress induction. Metabolomic analysis demonstrated that MUC1-mediated CDA activity corresponded to deoxycytidine to deoxyuridine metabolic reprogramming upon ER stress induction. The resulting increase in deoxyuridine mitigated ER stress-induced cytotoxicity. In addition, given (1) the established roles of MUC1 in protecting cells against reactive oxygen species (ROS) insults, (2) ER stress-generated ROS further promote ER stress and (3) the emerging anti-oxidant property of deoxyuridine, we further investigated if MUC1 regulated ER stress by a deoxyuridine-mediated modulation of ROS levels. We observed that deoxyuridine could abrogate ROS-induced ER stress to promote cancer cell survival. Taken together, our findings demonstrate a novel MUC1-CDA axis of the adaptive UPR that provides survival advantage upon ER stress induction.

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Fig. 1: MUC1 deficiency exacerbates ER stress upon induction.
Fig. 2: Transcriptomic analysis reveals alterations in the pyrimidine salvage pathway and cytidine deaminase (CDA) upon UPR induction.
Fig. 3: Inhibition of either the CDA enzyme activity or the pyrimidine pathway sensitizes cancer cells to ER stress.
Fig. 4: MUC1-mediated CDA activity correlates with deoxycytidine to deoxyuridine reprogramming upon UPR induction.
Fig. 5: Deoxyuridine rescues cancer cells from ER stress and provides survival advantage.
Fig. 6: Deoxyuridine modulates ER stress-induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation and oxidative stress.


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This work was supported in part by funding from the National Institutes of Health (R01 CA216853, CA163649, CA210439, NCI) to PKS, the Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE, 2P50 CA127297, NCI) to PKS, P01 CA2117798 (NCI) to PKS, and a supplement to NIH grant (R01CA216853-01) to AAO. We would also like to acknowledge the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center Support Grant (P30CA036727, NCI) for supporting shared resources.

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Project conceptualization: AAO and PKS. Experiments and data curation: AAO. Data Analysis: AAO, RJK, FY and PKS. Manuscript writing: AAO. Editing: AAO, RJK, and PKS.

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Correspondence to Pankaj K. Singh.

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Olou, A.A., King, R.J., Yu, F. et al. MUC1 oncoprotein mitigates ER stress via CDA-mediated reprogramming of pyrimidine metabolism. Oncogene 39, 3381–3395 (2020).

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