Background Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are involved in various biological processes and diseases. Malat1 (metastasis-associated lung adenocarcinoma transcript 1), also known as Neat2, is one of the most abundant and highly conserved nuclear lncRNAs. Several studies have shown that the expression of lncRNA Malat1 is associated with metastasis and serving as a predictive marker for various tumor progression. Metastatic relapse often develops years after primary tumor removal as a result of disseminated tumor cells undergoing a period of latency in the target organ.1–4 However, the correlation of tumor intrinsic lncRNA in regulation of tumor dormancy and immune evasion is largely unknown.
Methods Using an in vivo screening platform for the isolation of genetic entities involved in either dormancy or reactivation of breast cancer tumor cells, we have identified Malat1 as a positive mediator of metastatic reactivation. To functionally uncover the role of Malat1 in metastatic reactivation, we have developed a knock out (KO) model by using paired gRNA CRISPR-Cas9 deletion approach in metastatic breast and other cancer types, including lung, colon and melanoma. As proof of concept we also used inducible knockdown system under in vivo models. To delineate the immune micro-environment, we have used 10X genomics single cell RNA-seq, ChIRP-seq, multi-color flowcytometry, RNA-FISH and immunofluorescence.
Results Our results reveal that the deletion of Malat1 abrogates the tumorigenic and metastatic potential of these tumors and supports long-term survival without affecting their ploidy, proliferation, and nuclear speckles formation. In contrast, overexpression of Malat1 leads to metastatic reactivation of dormant breast cancer cells. Moreover, the loss of Malat1 in metastatic cells induces dormancy features and inhibits cancer stemness. Our RNA-seq and ChIRP-seq data indicate that Malat1 KO downregulates several immune evasion and stemness associated genes. Strikingly, Malat1 KO cells exhibit metastatic outgrowth when injected in T cells defective mice. Our single-cell RNA-seq cluster analysis and multi-color flow cytometry data show a greater proportion of T cells and reduce Neutrophils infiltration in KO mice which indicate that the immune microenvironment playing an important role in Malat1-dependent immune evasion. Mechanistically, loss of Malat1 is associated with reduced expression of Serpinb6b, which protects the tumor cells from cytotoxic killing by the T cells. Indeed, overexpression of Serpinb6b rescued the metastatic potential of Malat1 KO cells by protecting against cytotoxic T cells.
Conclusions Collectively, our data indicate that targeting this novel cancer-cell-initiated domino effect within the immune system represents a new strategy to inhibit tumor metastatic reactivation.
Trial Registration N/A
Ethics Approval For all the animal studies in the present study, the study protocols were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee(IACUC) of UT MD Anderson Cancer Center.
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