Autophagy plays dual role in cellular activities. On the one hand, by degrading and reusing damaged cellular organelles, autophagy maintain cellular survival and metabolism6. Some cancer cell lines, such as pancreatic cancer cells, have abnormally high autophagy level7. It is likely that autophagy is required for cancer aggression14. On the other hand, BECN1(Beclin-1), an autophagy associated gene which play a role in autophagosome formation, are frequently deleted in some cancer, such as breast cancer, ovarian and prostate cancer15. Other autophagy proteins are observed aberration and expression alteration. There is an emerging hypothesis that autophagy may act as anticarcinogenesis in the beginning status of oncocytoma15, but once tumor is established, autophagy may increase for cancer cell survival and fight against stress15, 16.
The role of IL-7 in tumor apoptosis, migration, proliferation and lymphangiogenesis has been reported. But its role in autophagy are still elusive. In a recent study, Jifeng Zhu etc revealed that IL-7 inhibit macroautophagy in schistosome infected mice and this effect of IL-7 may exacerbated liver pathology17. In our latest study, we find IL-7 suppress formation of autophagosome in NSCLC, mainly by regulating AMPK/mTOR signaling pathway via translocation of nuclear/cytoplasmic p53 and regulating PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway via Beclin-118. In addition, the effect of IL-7 could be blocked by A-IL-7R antibody.
Autophagy or glucose restriction leads to p53 degradation or suppression, but this effect are associated with p53 status9, 19. Interestingly, there is also evidence suggest that p53 activate autophagy, for p53 directly or indirectly targeting autophagy related gene such as DRAM, ULK1 and Atg79, 19. Cytoplasmic p53 inhibit augophagy while nuclear p53 promote autophagy6. But the mechanism of how does different status of p53 affect autophagy are not known. In our study, A549 cell line(p53 wild type) were chose. Previously, we reported that IL-7 regulate autophagy by PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway via Beclin-118 and prevent apoptosis via p5320. IL-7 caused up-regulation of p-mTOR and change of p53. Thus, we asked whether p53 get involved in IL-7 regulated mTOR pathway and autophagy. By isolation of cytoplasmic and nuclear protein of p53 we find IL-7 cause p53 translocation from nucleus to cytoplasm at 12 hour, we also observed an increase of p53 mRNA level by using RT-qPCR. Then, by detecting total protein of AMPK and mTOR and its phosphorylated form, we observed IL-7 caused decrease of p-AMPK and increase of p-mTOR.
Mechanistically, several molecular, such as AMPK, DRAM, DAPK-1, PTEN, IGF-BP3 have been reported as downstream factor of p5321. It is reported that some kinases, including CAMKK, LKB1, TGF-β-activated protein kinase 1 (TAK1), and ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) kinase play a role as upstream factor of AMPK22. However, whether p53 regulate AMPK or AMPK affect p53 are still elusive23. Thus, p53 inhibitor PFT-α and AMPK inhibitor Compound C was used to reveal the relationship between p53 and AMPK. After incubated with PFT-α, western blot results show that both nuclear and cytoplasmic p53 protein decreased, then we observed increase of p-AMPK expression level and decrease of p-mTOR level. Meanwhile, PFT-α block the effect of IL-7-regulated autophagy suppression. Compound C could up-regulate p-mTOR expression and inhibit autophagy, but p53 protein level was not affected. These results demonstrated that p53 is the upstream molecular of AMPK, however, AMPK is not the upstream factor of p53 in IL-7 regulated autophagy in A549 cell line.
LC3, the mammalian homologue of yeast Atg8, is localized in autophagosome membrane and commonly considered as autophagy marker24. But sometimes an increase in autophagosome does not correlate with LC3 aggregate25. Thus TEM is another reliable way to assess autophagy level. In our work, both LC3Ⅱ/Ⅰ protein level and TEM results indicate that IL-7 inhibit autophagy in A549 cell, and these effect can be blocked by A-IL-7R. In addition, PFT-α notably activate autophagy demonstrating that p53 suppressing lead to autophagy activation. Besides, AMPK inhibiting cause autophagy suppression.
In our study, immunohistochemical analysis of 123 NSCLC specimens show that AMPK low expression are associated with p53, mTOR, IL-7, IL-7R high expression. Clinically, patients with AMPK low expression are more associated with advanced-stage cancer(P < 0.001) and patients with high expression of AMPK had a statically significant longer survival than those with low expression of AMPK. Similar to our findings, Nan Li et al. find out in both squamous cell carcinoma and lung adenocarcinoma, p-AMPK low expression had a higher survival26.However, Daohui Gong et al. demonstrated that AMPKα1 was highly expressed in NSCLC cancer tissues and correlated with poor prognosis in patients with NSCLC27. The immunohistochemical analysis of p53 showed the opposite results with AMPK. Zhihua Teng et al believe that lung cancer with p53-negative expression had a longer 3-year survival rate than those with p53-positive expression28.Cox regression multivariate analysis show IL-7R, mTOR, and tumor stage were independent predictors of survival.
In our present study, we have illustrated basic mechanism of IL-7-regulated autophagy inhibition. However, whether IL-7-regulated autophagy pro-apoptosis or anti-apoptosis in NSCLC are not known. Thus, Further studies should be performed to this issue.
In conclusion, we demonstrated that IL-7 induced p53 translocate from nucleus to cytoplasm then regulating AMPK/mTOR signaling pathway to inhibit autophagy. Expression of AMPK and P53 correlate with IL-7/IL-7R level, clinical stages, and NSCLC patient survival. Targeting mTOR might be another therapeutic way for IL-7 regulated autophagy in NSCLC.