Characterization of ALDH1A1 as a novel tumorigenic target mediating TAZ-induced lung tumorigenesis and stem cell phenotypes
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Recent studies suggest that lung cancer stem cells (CSCs) may play major roles in lung cancer development, metastasis and drug resistance. Therefore, identification of lung CSC drivers may provide promising targets for lung cancer. TAZ (transcriptional co-activator with PDZ-binding motif) is a transcriptional co-activator and key downstream effector of the Hippo pathway, which plays critical roles in various biological processes. TAZ has been shown to be overexpressed in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and involved in tumorigenicity of lung epithelial cells. However, whether TAZ is a driver for lung CSCs and tumor formation in vivo is unknown. In addition, the molecular mechanism underlying TAZ-induced lung tumorigenesis remains to be determined. In this study, we provided evidence that constitutively active TAZ (TAZ-S89A) is a driver for lung tumorigenesis in vivo in mice and formation of lung CSC. Oncogenes upregulated in TAZ-overexpressing cells were identified with further validation. The most dramatically activated gene, Aldh1a1 (Aldehyde dehydrogenase 1 family member a1), a well-established CSC marker, showed that TAZ induces Aldh1a1 transcription by activating its promoter activity through interaction with the transcription factor TEA domain (TEAD) family member. Most significantly, inhibition of ALDH1A1 with its inhibitor A37 or CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) gene knockout in lung cancer cells suppressed lung tumorigenic and CSC phenotypes in vitro, and tumor formation in mice in vivo. In conclusion, this study identified TAZ as a novel inducer of lung CSCs and the first transcriptional activator of the stem cell marker ALDH1A1. Most significantly, we identified ALDH1A1 as a critical meditator of TAZ-induced tumorigenic and CSC phenotypes in lung cancer. Our studies provided preclinical data for targeting of TAZ-TEAD-ALDH1A1 signaling to inhibit CSC-induced lung tumorigenesis and drug resistance in the future.