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    Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP) are phylogenetically conserved signaling molecules of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) superfamily of proteins, involved in developmental and (patho)physiological processes, including cancer. BMP signaling has been regarded as tumor-suppressive in colorectal cancer (CRC) by reducing cancer cell proliferation and invasion, and by impairing epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Here, we mined existing proteomic repositories to explore the expression of BMPs in CRC. We found that the BMP antagonist gremlin-1 (GREM1) is secreted from heterotypic tumor-host cell interactions. We then sought to investigate whether GREM1 is contextually and mechanistically associated with EMT in CRC. Using immunohistochemistry, we showed that GREM1-expressing stromal cells harbor prominent features of myofibroblasts (i.e., cancer-associated fibroblasts), such as expression of α-smooth muscle actin and laminin-beta-1, and were in contextual proximity to invasion fronts with loss of the tight junction protein occludin and parallel nuclear accumulation of β-catenin, two prominent EMT hallmarks. Furthermore, in vitro assays demonstrated that GREM1-dependent suppression of BMP signaling results in EMT induction, characterized by cadherin switching (loss of E-cadherin-upregulation of N-cadherin) and overexpression of Snail. Collectively, our data support that GREM1 promotes the loss of cancer cell differentiation at the cancer invasion front, a mechanism that may facilitate tumor progression.


    George S Karagiannis, Natasha Musrap, Punit Saraon, Ann Treacy, David F Schaeffer, Richard Kirsch, Robert H Riddell, Eleftherios P Diamandis. Bone morphogenetic protein antagonist gremlin-1 regulates colon cancer progression. Biological chemistry. 2015 Feb;396(2):163-83

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    PMID: 25153376

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