Hedgehog signaling regulates hypoxia induced epithelial to mesenchymal transition and invasion in pancreatic cancer cells via a ligand-independent manner
Hedgehog signaling regulates hypoxia induced epithelial to mesenchymal transition and invasion in pancreatic cancer cells via a ligand-independent manner
Jianjun Lei 0 3
Jiguang Ma 2
Qingyong Ma 0 3
Xuqi Li 0 3
Han Liu 0 3
Qinhong Xu 0 3
Wanxing Duan 0 3
Qing Sun 0 3
Jun Xu 0 3
Zheng Wu 0 3
Erxi Wu 1
0 Department of Hepatobiliary Surgery, First Affiliated Hospital of Medical College, Xi'an Jiaotong University , 277 West Yanta Road, Xi'an 710061Shaanxi Province , China
1 Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, North Dakota State University , Sudro Hall 203, Fargo, ND, 58105 USA
2 Department of Oncology, First Affiliated Hospital of Medical College, Xi'an Jiaotong University , 277 West Yanta Road, Xi'an 710061Shaanxi Province , China
3 Department of Hepatobiliary Surgery, First Affiliated Hospital of Medical College, Xi'an Jiaotong University , 277 West Yanta Road, Xi'an 710061Shaanxi Province , China
Background: Hypoxia plays a vital role in cancer epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) and invasion. However, it is not quite clear how hypoxia may contribute to these events. Here we investigate the role of Hedgehog (Hh) signaling in hypoxia induced pancreatic cancer EMT and invasion. Methods: Pancreatic cancer cells were cultured under controlled hypoxia conditions (3% O2) or normoxic conditions. HIF-1 siRNA, cyclopamine (a SMO antagonist) and GLI1 siRNA were used to inhibit HIF-1 transcription or Hh signaling activation. The effect of hypoxia and Hh signaling on cancer cell EMT and invasion were evaluated by Quantitative real-time PCR analysis, Western blot analysis and invasion assay. Results: Here, we show that non-canonical Hh signaling is required as an important role to switch on hypoxiainduced EMT and invasion in pancreatic cancer cells. Moreover, our data demonstrate hypoxia induces EMT process as well as invasion, and activates the non-canonical Hh pathway without affecting sonic hedgehog homolog (SHH) expression. Moreover, these effects are reversible upon HIF-1 siRNA interference with unchanged SHH and patched1 (PTCH1) level. Furthermore, our data demonstrate that hypoxia induced invasion and EMT process are effectively inhibited by Smoothened (SMO) antagonist cyclopamine and GLI1 siRNA. In addition, GLI1 interference inhibited EMT progress with significantly suppressed vimentin expression, whereas inhibition of SMO through cyclopamine could not reduce vimentin level. This data indicate that hypoxia could trigger other factors (such as TGF-, KRAS or RTK) bypassing SMO to activate GLI1 directly. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that Hh signaling modulates hypoxia induced pancreatic cancer EMT and invasion in a ligand-independent manner. Thus, Hh signaling may represent a promising therapeutic target for preventing pancreatic cancer progression.
Hedgehog signaling; Epithelial to mesenchymal transition; Hypoxia; Invasion; Pancreatic cancer
Accompanying with a 5-year survival rate less than 5%
and more than 37, 000 deaths per year, pancreatic ductal
adenocarcinoma represents one of the most lethal
human cancers and is the fourth leading cause of
cancerrelated deaths in the United States [1,2]. Its high
tendency to metastasize is considered to partially account
for the extremely poor clinical prognosis of pancreatic
cancer . However, the underlying molecular
mechanisms of the invasion and metastasis of pancreatic
cancer remain poorly understood.
Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a process
defining the progression that cells lose their polarized
epithelial character and acquire a migratory mesenchymal
phenotype . EMT plays a pivotal role in normal
physiological development and enables the cancer cells to gain
migratory and invasive properties consequently lead to
tumor metastasis . An important hallmark of EMT is
the loss of the homophilic cell adhesion molecule
Ecadherin, which is considered as a main determinant of
epithelial cell-cell adhesion and cell polarity . This
crucial event has found to be resulted from transcriptional
repression of E-cadherin through overexpression of several
different EMT-inducing factors, such as Snail, a
zincfinger transcription repressor .
Solid tumors often experience low oxygen tension
environments, which is predominantly caused by abnormal
vasculature formation of the rapidly growing tumor mass.
Tumor hypoxia is associated with enhanced tumor
invasiveness, angiogenesis, and distant metastasis [8-10]. The
adaptation of tumor cells to hypoxia leads to tumor
heterogeneity and the selection of resistant clones,
consequently evolving into a more malignant phenotype . A
transcription factor hypoxia inducible factor-1 (HIF-1),
which mediates hypoxia responses, is overexpressed in
many solid tumors, including pancreatic cancer .
Stabilization and activation of HIF-1/HIF-1
transcription complex trigger its target genes related to cell
proliferation and metastasis, which correlates with many
different cellular processes, such as proliferation,
angiogenesis, and EMT [12-15], and poor prognosis and tumor
metastasis in cancer patients [13,16,17]. HIF-1 consists of a
bHLH domain close to the amino (N) terminal, which is
required for DNA binding to hypoxia-response elements to
activate the HIF target genes such as endothelin-1, vascular
endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and erythropoietin .
The Hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway, which is
normally quiescent in adult pancreas, has been shown to be
very active in pancreatic cancer where it promotes
stromal hyperplasia, myofibroblast differentiation, and
production of extracellular matrix (ECM) [19,20], which
may promote cancer cells to undergo EMT process to
further facilitate the strong propensity of pancreatic
cancer for invasion and metastasis. Without binding to Hh
ligands, patched1 (PTCH1) holds Smoothened (SMO), a
seven transmembrane spanning protein, in an inactive
state and thus prohibits signaling to downstream genes.
Upon binding to Hh ligands, SMO dissociates from
PTCH1 and the signaling is transduced, leading to the
activation of target genes, including PTCH1, by
transcription factor GLI1 [21-24]. Therefore, expression of
SMO and GLI1 is presumed to be the markers of the
Hh pathway activation. Another study demonstrates that
Hh signaling activation is a very common event in
pancreatic cancer, evidenced by the expression of PTCH1
and GLI1 in seven available pancreatic cancer cell lines
and 54 pancreatic cancer surgical specimens . In
pancreatic cancer, the activation of the Hh pathway
could induce an EMT, which leads to invasion and
metastasis through down-regulating E-cadherin expression
and up-regulating vimentin expression [26,27].
Moreover, a number of signal transduction pathways, including
Hh signaling, could be activated in human pulmonary
arterial smooth muscle cells under hypoxia conditions
 or in ischemia tissues .
In this study, we focused on elucidating the regulation
of EMT and invasion processes in hypoxia condition via
Hh signaling, in a panel of pancreatic cancer cell lines.
We found that non-canonical Hh signaling in pancreatic
cancer cells is a critical mechanism for hypoxia in
regulating the process of EMT and invasion.
GLI1 and HIF-1 are expressed in pancreatic cancer cell
To explore the possible roles of Hh pathway and HIF-1
in the triggering of EMT progress in pancreatic cancer cell
lines. We first explored the expression of GLI1 and
HIF1 in six human pancreatic cancer cell lines. As shown in
Figure 1A, all pancreatic cancer cell lines except SW1990
express readily detectable levels of GLI1 protein, similar
results of the GLI1 mRNA levels in these cell lines were
detected using qRT-PCR (Figure 1B). Furthermore, the
expression of HIF-1 was also detectable but differed among
the six cell lines analyzed by qRT-PCR (Figure 1C).
Hypoxia accumulates HIF-1 and potentiates Hh signaling
in PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells
Previous studies have shown that the effect induced by
hypoxia is mainly mediated by HIF-1 . In order to
investigate the effect of hypoxia, 6570% sub-confluent
pancreatic cancer cells (PANC-1, BxPC-3) were exposed
to hypoxic conditions (3% O2) up to 48 h. As shown in
Figure 2A, the expression levels of HIF-1, SMO and
GLI1 proteins were dramatically increased in both two
cell lines, compared with normal controls. Moreover,
HIF-1 mRNA level dramatically accumulated, and
SMO and GLI1 mRNA levels were also significantly
Figure 1 The expression of GLI1 and HIF-1 in human pancreatic cancer cell lines. (A) The expression of GLI1 at protein level in MIAPaCa-2,
AsPC-1, PANC-1, BxPC-3, CFPAC-1 and SW1990 was estimated by Western blot. 100 ug of cellular proteins were separated on a 10% SDS-PAGE
gel, and transferred onto a PVDF membrane. Antibodies specific for GLI1 were used to probe the immunoblots. The blots were then re-probed
with -actin antibody as a loading control. (B&C) The expression of GLI1 and HIF-1 at mRNA level was evaluated by qRT-PCR. The expression of
each target gene was quantified using GAPDH as a normalization control. Results are representative of three independent experiments. Column:
mean; bar: SD.
elevated in PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells. However, the level
of sonic hedgehog homolog (SHH) mRNA remained
unchanged, compared to normal controls (Figure 2B & 2C).
These results indicated that Hh signaling was activated in
both cell lines under hypoxia condition. Additionally, the
nuclear translocation of GLI1 was enhanced as an effect of
hypoxic exposure, as demonstrated by
immunofluorescence (Figure 2D).
Hypoxia induces an EMT phenotype and promotes
invasiveness in pancreatic cancer cells
To investigate whether pancreatic cancer cells underwent
EMT as a result of exposure to hypoxia, we examined the
expression of markers of epithelial and mesenchymal
phenotypes by Western blot. As shown in Figure 3A, hypoxia
cells displayed decreased E-cadherin level and increased
vimentin and Snail levels. Cancer cells that have
undergone EMT tend to exhibit greater invasiveness. On the
basis of this premise, we investigated the invasion ability
of both normoxic and hypoxic cells by Matrigel invasion
assay. Hypoxia exposure significantly increased pancreatic
cancer invasion (Figure 3B).
Silencing of HIF-1 reverses the effects of hypoxia on Hh
signaling, EMT process and invasion in pancreatic cancer
In order to further investigate the role of HIF-1 in the
effects induced by hypoxia, we transiently silenced
HIF1 in the cell lines in hypoxic conditions (Figure 4A-B).
Prominent decrease in HIF-1 expression significantly
down-regulated the expression levels of SMO and GLI1
in both PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells, whereas no effect
was observed in the expression of SHH and PTCH1
(Figure 4C-D). These data indicate that activated Hh
signaling under hypoxia exposure is inhibited by silencing
We further delineated the link between hypoxia
induced HIF-1 expression and EMT progress. Silencing
of HIF-1 resulted in marked decrease in the expression
of N-cadherin, vimentin and Snail, but a significant
increase in the expression of E-cadherin (Figure 4E),
consistent with the reversion to an epithelial phenotype.
To determine the role of HIF-1 in the enhanced
invasive capacity of pancreatic cancer cells as a result of
exposure to hypoxia, cells were treated with HIF-1 siRNA
for 48 h in hypoxia condition prior to the test for
invasion. A significantly decreased invasion was observed
from HIF-1 silenced hypoxic cells, compared to control
cells (Figure 4F). These results demonstrate that the
increased invasive ability of cancer cell lines observed in
hypoxia was dependent of HIF-1.
Hypoxia mediates pancreatic cancer EMT progress and
invasion through increasing the expression of SMO
Since hypoxia simultaneously induces tumor cell EMT,
invasion and Hh signaling activation without affecting
SHH expression, we hypothesized that hypoxia
contributes to increased pancreatic cancer cell EMT and
invasion through a SMO-dependent manner Hh signaling.
To test our hypothesis, pancreatic cancer cells incubated
Figure 2 Effects of hypoxia on HIF-1 and Hh signaling in pancreatic cancer cells. PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells were incubated under 3% O2
for 48 h prior to harvest. Normal culture was used as negative control. (A) Whole cell protein extracts were subject to Western blot analysis using
HIF-1, SMO or GLI1 antibodies. -actin was used as an internal loading control. (B&C) Total RNA was extracted and the expression of HIF-1a,
SHH, SMO, GIL1 and VEGF were measured by qRT-PCR. The expression of each target gene was quantified using GAPDH as a normalization
control. The data represent the results from three independent experiments. (D) Immuofluorescence staining of GLI1 in PANC-1, BxPC-3 cells
under normoxic or hypoxic conditions for 48 h. Green represents GLI1 staining. Blue signal represents nuclear DNA staining by DAPI. Column:
mean; bar: SD; *P < 0.05 compared to normal controls.
in hypoxia condition were treated with or without either
cyclopamine (a SMO antagonist) or GLI1 siRNA to
inhibit Hh signaling, and then compared the resulting
phenotype with control-treated cells.
Under hypoxia exposure conditions, cyclopamine
significantly reduced the expression of both SMO and
GLI1, and reversed the down-regulation of E-cadherin
and up-regulation of Snail. Interestingly, vimentin level
was unaffected (Figure 5A). Furthermore, cyclopamine
significantly decreased pancreatic cancer invasion
induced by hypoxia (Figure 5B). In normal conditions,
however, cyclopamine seems have no such significant
effect (Figure 5A-B). SMO and GLI1 decreased a little
in response to it, and E-cadherin increased slightly.
Vimentin, Snail and invasive ability stayed unchanged.
These findings suggest that SMO plays a vital role in
hypoxia-induced EMT and invasion in pancreatic cancer.
To further confirm if hypoxia could alter SMO
expression earlier than GLI1 in Hh signaling, GLI1 siRNA
was applied to knockdown GLI1 in pancreatic cells
(Figure 6A-B). And then EMT parameters and invasion
were tested. E-cadherin levels were notably increased,
while expressions of vimentin and Snail were obviously
decreased, even though SMO expression was still
upregulated by hypoxia in GLI1 siRNA groups compared
with siRNA control (Figure 6C). Additionally, GLI1 siRNA
significantly abolished pancreatic cancer invasion induced
by hypoxia (Figure 6D). These results implied that the
induced EMT progress and invasion of pancreatic cancer in
the presence of hypoxia was significantly abolished in the
condition of GLI1 knockdown. Since the blockade of GLI1
does not affect SMO expression, these data indicate that
hypoxia facilitates pancreatic cancer cell EMT and
invasion through increasing the transcription level of SMO.
Figure 3 Characteristics of EMT and invasion under hypoxia condition in pancreatic cancer cells. (A) Western blot analysis of EMT related
molecules E-cadherin, vimentin, and Snail of PANC-1, BxPC-3 cells under normoxic or hypoxic conditions for 48 h. (B) Matrigel invasion assay. PANC-1
and BxPC-3 cells were seeded into a matrigel-coated invasion chamber under normoxic or hypoxic conditions for 48 h. Left, Representative staining.
100 magnification. Right, quantification of invasion. The number of migrated cells was quantified by counting the cells from 10 random fields. The
data are representative of 3 independent experiments. *P < 0.05. Column: mean (n = 10); bar: SD; *P < 0.05 compared to normal controls.
Epithelial to mesenchymal transition is described as a
dynamic and reversible biological process. In recent
years, it has become increasingly clear that EMT plays
important roles in the progression of cancer .
Several factors, including hypoxia could induce this
phenomenon via mediating snail transcription [14,33].
A hypoxic microenvironment is commonly found in
the central region of solid tumors, including pancreatic
cancer. The correlation between hypoxia and EMT has
been previously reported, and HIF-1a has been found
to mediate this phenomenon. However, the molecular
mechanisms of how HIF-1a mediates EMT process
have been largely undefined, although evidence in
support of the ability of HIF-1a to activate Nuclear
FactorkB and Notch signaling to induce EMT process has
been recently described in several human epithelial
cancer cells [12,34].
Previous study showed that hypoxia could activate
canonical Hh signaling through accumulation of HIF-1
in vitro and in vivo [28,29]. Here, we show that
accumulated HIF-1 could also trigger non-canonical Hh signaling
to facilitate hypoxia induced EMT and invasion processes.
A recent report showed that high expression of VEGF, a
HIF-1 target gene, facilitates EMT through promoting
Snail nuclear localization in prostate cancer . In this
study, our data also show that mRNA level of VEGF was
significantly up-regulated by hypoxia in pancreatic cancer
cells. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the EMT program
attributable to hypoxia is largely driven by activation of the
Hh signaling pathway. This EMT program is characterized
by vimentin and Snail expression and E-cadherin
suppression, a highly invasive and mesenchymal phenotype. A
previous study showed that knockdown of GLI1 abrogates
characteristics of epithelial differentiation, enhances cell
motility, and synergizes with TGF- to induce EMT
progress . Intriguingly, EMT conversion of pancreatic
cancer cells occurred without up-regulation of Snail or Slug,
two canonical inducers of EMT in many other settings,
and GLI1 directly regulates E-cadherin transcription, a vital
determinant of epithelial tissue feature . In this study,
we show that RNAi-mediated GLI1 interference inhibits
the hypoxia-induced EMT and decreases cell invasion.
Moreover, Snail expression is dramatically reduced,
whereas both E-cadherin mRNA and protein levels are
notably increased. This difference might be resulted from
the distinct culture conditions used: it is possible that
pancreatic cancer cells under hypoxia exposure produce
enough cofactors interacting with Hh signaling to mediate
the EMT progress and invasion.
The Hh signaling is affiliated with EMT, invasion and
metastasis in both non-neoplastic and cancer cells
[36-39], probably via directly participating in cell
migration and angiogenesis . Recently, it is reported that
Hh paracrine signaling is required for epithelial tumor
cells conducting signals to the stroma in pancreatic
Figure 4 HIF-1 interference reverses hypoxia induced Hh signaling activation, EMT process and invasion. PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells were
incubated under hypoxic conditions. Normal control groups were also under hypoxic conditions. (A) Western blot detection of HIF-1 in
siRNAtransfected PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells. (B) qRT-PCR analysis of HIF-1 mRNA level after both cells transfected with siRNA. (C) The effects of HIF-1
siRNA on the expression of SMO and GLI1. SMO and GLI1 expression levels following transfected with siRNA for 48 h were estimated by Western
blot. (D) The expression of SHH, PTCH1, SMO and GLI1 mRNA level were evaluated by qRT-PCR following transfection with siRNA for 48 h. (E) The
effects of HIF-1 siRNA on EMT process. E-cadherin, vimentin, N-cadherin and Snail protein levels of PANC-1, BxPC-3 cells transfected with siRNA
for 48 h were analysed by Western blot. (F) The effect on cell invasion in response to HIF-1 knockdown. After transfection with siRNA for 48 h,
PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells were incubated under hypoxic conditions for 48 h. Control groups were under normoxic condiions. The number of cells
was counted under a light microscope.
cancer [27,40]. However, under conditions of ligand
blocking, how Hh signaling is activated in pancreatic
cancer cells themselves is undefined, even though
paracrine Hh signaling plays a vital role in triggering
tumor-associated stroma relying on a ligand-dependent
manner in pancreatic cancer. The results here provide
noteworthy evidences that the Hh signaling is
potentiated through a ligand-independent manner leading to
cancer cell EMT and invasion.
Multiple components of Hh signaling could regulate
the pathway at different levels. Cyclopamine could
especially bind to SMO heptahelical bundle to inhibit its
activity so as to suppress Hh signaling. To determine
whether SMO or GLI1 is directly regulated by hypoxia,
we exposed pancreatic cancer cells to cyclopamine or
GLI1 siRNA in the presence of hypoxia. Although both
treatments dramatically reduced tumor invasion and
reversed EMT progress induced by hypoxia, GLI1 siRNA
could not interrupt the hypoxia-mediated increase in
SMO; conversely, blocking SMO function by
cyclopamine decreased the expression of the
transcription factor GLI1. We also observed that the expression
Figure 5 The effects of cyclopamine on hypoxia induced pancreatic cancer cell EMT and invasion. PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells were treated
with or without cyclopamine under hypoxia or normal conditions. (A) The effects of cyclopamine on the expression of SMO, GLI1 and
EMTrelated molecules E-cadherin, vimentin and Snial were estimated by Western blot. (B) The effect on cell invasion in response to inhibition of SMO
by cyclopamine. After treated with cyclopamine for 48 h, the cells were seeded into a matrigel-coated invasion chamber under hypoxia or
normal conditions for 48 h. The number of migrated cells was quantified by counting the number of cells from 10 random fields at
of SHH was not influenced by hypoxia and HIF-1
interference under hypoxia condition also did not affect
expression of both SHH and PTCH1. Moreover, a
previous report showed that hypoxia could directly elevate
SMO expression level to activate Hh signaling, not in a
ligand dependent manner . These results indicate that
hypoxia activates Hh signaling via up-regulation of SMO
expression (Figure 7). Furthermore, GLI1 interference
inhibited EMT progress with significantly suppressed
vimentin expression, whereas inhibition of SMO through
cyclopamine could not reduce vimentin level. These data
indicate that hypoxia could, to some extent, bypass SMO
to activate GLI1 directly. It is possible that GLI1
transcription is partly decoupled from upstream SHH-PTCH-SMO
signaling and is regulated by TGF-, KRAS and RTK
[42-44] (Figure 7). Additionally, nuclear expression of
GLI1 was elevated as exposed to hypoxia. These data
suggest that it is probably nuclear GLI1 that directly
mediate hypoxia-induced EMT and invasion (Figure 7).
Although our data support the hypothesis that Hh
signaling pathway is critical for hypoxia-induced EMT and
invasion of pancreatic cancer cells, we cannot rule out the
possibility that other factors are also involved in
hypoxiainduced EMT and invasion. This is because inhibition of
SMO by cyclopamine could not reduce vimentin levels,
Thus, we speculate that hypoxia enhances EMT and
invasion of pancreatic cancer cells through activating a
multifaceted factors in which the Hh signaling pathway is a part
of an essential network.
EMT is a key driving force for tumor growth and
recurrence. And hypoxia is often experienced by solid tumors,
and has been closely linked to EMT and invasion of
Figure 6 GLI1 interference abolishes hypoxia induced pancreatic cancer EMT and invasion. After transfection with siRNA for 48 h, PANC-1
and BxPC-3 cells were incubated under normoxic or hypoxic conditions for 48 h. (A) Western blot detection of GLI1 in siRNA-transfected PANC-1
and BxPC-3 cells. (B) qRT-PCR analysis of GLI1 mRNA level after both cells transfected with siRNA. (C) The effects of GLI1 siRNA on SMO and EMT
process. SMO, E-cadherin, vimentin and Snail protein levels of PANC-1, BxPC-3 cells transfected with siRNA were analysed by Western blot. (D)
The effect on cell invasion in response to GLI1 knockdown. After transfection with siRNA for 48 h, the cells were seeded into a matrigel-coated
invasion chamber under normoxic or hypoxic conditions for 48 h. The number of cells was counted under a light microscope.
cancers. Using two pancreatic cancer cell lines, we have
demonstrated that non-canonical Hh signaling is required
as an important role to switch on hypoxia-induced
EMT and invasion in pancreatic cancer cells. Thus,
hypoxia mediated-Hh signaling may play an important role
in the initiation of EMT and represent a promising
therapeutic target for preventing pancreatic cancer
progression. Especially, the development of HIF-1, SMO
or GLI1 inhibitor may provide a new class of potent and
selectively anticancer agents.
Figure 7 Schematic diagram of Hh signaling activation under
hypoxia condition. Hypoxia could trigger SMO without affecting
SHH or PTCH1 expression. This results in eventual inhibition of
factors that promote Gli1 phosphorylation/degradation, and permits
cellular accumulation of Gli1. Moreover, hypoxia may trigger other
factors, such as TGF-, KRAS and RTK, to activate GLI1 directly via
mechanisms that may operate independently of SMO. Nuclear
accumulation of Gli1, in turn, influences transcriptional activity of
(DMEM) (high Glucose) (HyClone, Logan, USA)
containing 10% heat-inactivated fetal bovine serum (FBS) plus
100 g/ml ampicillin and 100 g/ml streptomycin. In
experiments designed to assess the role of hypoxia, cells were
first cultured in normoxic conditions to obtain the desired
subconfluence level (6570%) and then were incubated in
strictly controlled hypoxic conditions (3% O2), as previously
detailed elsewhere [30,31] for up to 48 h. Cyclopamine, an
antagonist of SMO, was obtained from Selleck Chemicals
(Houston, USA). Pancreatic cancer cells at exponential
phase were cultured in six orifice plates in DMEM
supplemented with 1% FBS for 24 h. The drugs (or solvent
only) at given concentrations were then added in medium
containing 1% FBS, and cells were incubated for another 48
h before a matrigel invasion assay. Antibodies were
obtained from the following resources: anti-HIF-1
antibody (Bioworld, Atlanta, GA, USA), anti-SMO antibody
(Bioworld), anti-GLI1 antibody (Santa Cruz Biotechnology,
Santa Cruz, USA), anti-E-cadherin antibody (Santa Cruz
Biotechnology), anti-vimentin antibody (Bioworld),
antiSnail antibody (Santa Cruz Biotechnology), anti-N-cadherin
antibody (Santa Cruz Biotechnology), and anti--actin
antibody (Santa Cruz Biotechnology).
Cell invasion assay
A chamber based invasion assay (Millipore co., Billerica,
USA) was performed to evaluate pancreatic cancer cell
invasion. Briefly, the upper surface of the membrane was
coated with matrigel (BD Biosciences, Franklin Lakes,
USA). Pancreatic cancer cells (1 105) were resuspended
in upper chamber in serum-free media and allowed to
migrate towards a serum gradient (10%) in the lower
chamber. The media was aspirated from the inside of
the insert and the non-invasive cells on the upper side
were removed by scraping with a cotton swab. The
membrane was fixed with 4% paraformaldehyde and
stained with crystal violet. The number of migrating cells
was counted in 10 random fields on each membrane and
photographed at 100 magnification. Values reported
here are the averages of triplicate experiments.
Western blot analysis
Pancreatic cancer cells were washed with ice-cold PBS and
were lysed in situ with a buffer containing Tris (40 mM,
pH 7.4), 10% glycerol, b-glycerophosphate (50 mM),
ethylenediaminetetraacetic (5 mM),
ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (2 mM), vanadate (0.35 mM), NaF (10 mM),
0.3% Triton X-100, and protease inhibitors (Roche,
Penzberg, Germany). After incubation on ice for 30 min,
with vortexing every 10 min, cell lysates were centrifuged at
12 000 r.p.m. for 15 min at 4C. 100 g of cellular proteins
were separated on a 10% SDS-PAGE gel, and the proteins
were transferred to the PVDF membranes (Roche).
Membranes were blocked with 5% non-fat dry milk in TBST (10
mM Tris-HCl, pH 8.0, 150 mM NaCl, 0.05% Tween 20)
and were then incubated with primary antibodies overnight
at 4C. After washing five times for 10 min each in TBST,
membranes were incubated with HRP-conjugated
secondary antibodies for 2 h, washed again and the peroxidase
reaction was performed by an enhanced chemiluminescence
detection system to visualize the immunoreactive bands.
Quantitative real-time PCR assay (qRT-PCR)
Total RNAs were extracted from pancreatic cancer cells
using TRIzol reagent (Invitrogen, CA, USA), and the
reverse transcription was developed using a PrimeScript
RT reagent Kit (TaKaRa, Dalian, China) according to the
manufacturer's instruction. The real-time experiments
were carried out using the iQ5 Multicolor Real-Time
PCR Detection System (Bio-Rad, Hercules, CA) and a
SYBR Green PCR Kit (TaKaRa). Following program was
used: denaturation at 95C for 30 sec and 40 cycles
consisting of denaturation at 95C for 5 sec, annealing at
60C for 30 sec, and extension at 72C for 30 sec. A
melting curve analysis was applied to assess the
specificity of the amplified PCR products. The PCR primer
sequences for HIF-1, SHH, PTCH1, SMO, GLI1,
E-cadherin, vimentin, Snail, VEGF and GAPDH are shown
in Additional file 1: Table S1. The amount of each target
gene was quantitated by the comparative C (T) method
using GAPDH as the normalization control .
siRNA for HIF-1 (HIF-1-Homo-2258: 5-CCACCACUG
GTT-3), siRNA for GLI1 (GLI1-Homo-2758: 5-GGCUC
UGAGCCTT-3) and a negative control siRNA (NC:
UUCGGAGAATT-3) were purchased from GenePharm
(Shanghai, China). Cells (2 105 per well) seeded in six-well
plates were transfected with 100 nM siRNA using
Lipofectamine RNAi MAX Reagent (Invitrogen, CA,
USA) according to the manufacturers instructions. The
cells were used for further experiments at 48 h after
After designated treatment, pancreatic cancer cells were
fixed with 4% paraformaldehyde for 10 min at room
temperature, permeabilized in 0.5% Triton X-100 for 10
min, and blocked in 1% BSA for 1 h. Fixed cells were
then incubated with Rabbit anti-human-GLI1 antibodies
at 1:100 dilution at 4C overnight. Cells were washed
and incubated with Goat anti-rabbit FITC (green) IgG
antibody (ZSGB-BIO Inc., Beijing, China) at 1:100
dilution for 60 min. Nuclei were stained with DAPI for 5
min. The cells were visualized by a fluorescent
microscope (Nikon, Japan) using appropriate excitation and
emission spectra at 400 magnification.
Data are presented as the mean standard error.
Differences were evaluated using one-way ANOVA with the
LSD post hoc test for multiple comparisons with SPSS
(version 13.0; SPSS, Chicago, IL, USA). P-values below
0.05 were considered statistically significant. In all
figures, (*) denotes P < 0.05. All experiments were repeated
independently at least three times.
Additional file 1: Table S1. Primers for real-time PCR.
JL, XL, HL, QX, WD, and QM designed the experiments. JL, XL, HL, QX, WD,
and JM performed the experiments. JL, JM, QM, XL, HL, QX, WD, QS, JX, ZW,
and EW analyzed the data. JL, JM, QS, and EW wrote the manuscript. All
authors approved the final draft of this manuscript.
This work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science
Foundation of China (NSFC) (No. 81172360, 81201824), the Fundamental
Research Funds for the Central Universities in Xian Jiaotong University, and
Pilot Project Grants of the Program Project grants from the National Center
for Research Resources (NCRR; P20 RR020151) and the National Institute of
General Medical Sciences (NIGMS; P20 GM103505 and P30GM103332-01)
from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The contents of this report are
solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the
official views of the NSFC, NIH, NCRR, or NIGMS.
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