Melanotransferrin Functions as a Pro-Oncogenic WNT Agonist: A Yin-Yang Relationship in Melanoma with the WNT Antagonist and Metastasis Suppressor, NDRG1.

Paluncic J, Gholam Azad M, Lane DJR, Skoda J, Park KC, Chiang S, Bae DH, Scolyer R, Afroz R, Babu G, Wilmott J, Loh K, Jansson PJ, Dharmasivam M, Huang ML, Zhao X, Kovacevic Z, Richardson DR. bioRxiv, doi:10.1101/2023.02.27.530353.


A persistent mystery in the melanoma field has been the function of one of the first melanoma tumor antigens characterized, namely p97 (melanotransferrin; MTf). While MTf expression increases melanoma cell proliferation, migration, and tumorigenesis, the molecular mechanism responsible is unknown. On the other hand, N-myc down-stream regulated gene 1 (NDRG1) is a potent metastasis suppressor and WNT antagonist. Expression of NDRG1 in melanoma cells suggests a role in inhibiting metastasis, with this study investigating MTf’s role in oncogenic signaling. We demonstrate MTf acts as a pro-oncogenic WNT agonist, which down-regulates NDRG1, while silencing MTf increases NDRG1 expression. In contrast, silencing NDRG1 increases MTf expression. These observations demonstrate a bidirectional negative feedback loop and “Yin-Yang” relationship between MTf and NDRG1. Mechanistically, MTf was directly associated with the WNT co-receptor, lipoprotein-receptor 6 (LRP6), and increased total LRP6 expression, activated p-LRP6 (Ser1490), β-catenin, and activated β-catenin (Ser552) levels, with MTf expression inducing their nuclear accumulation. Additionally, MTf expression increased downstream WNT targets, namely cyclin D1 and c-Myc, with c-Myc down-regulating NDRG1 expression. Silencing c-Myc prevented the Yin-Yang relationship between NDRG1 and MTf, indicating c-Myc played a key role in their inverse regulation. Melanoma patient specimens demonstrated that a low NDRG1/MTf ratio was significantly (p = 0.008) associated with lower survival and metastasis. Chemotherapeutic agents that up-regulated NDRG1 depressed MTf and nuclear LRP6 and potently inhibited melanoma xenograft growth in vivo. This study demonstrates MTf acts as a WNT agonist, with a Yin-Yang relationship being observed with the WNT antagonist, NDRG1.