Abstract Y-box binding protein-1 (YBX1) is a multifunctional protein and often acts as an indicator of poor prognosis in cancers. Increasing evidence has shown that the levels of YBX1 protein were closely associated with multidrug resistance, relapse, metastasis and poor prognosis in cancers. However, its role in nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) metastasis remains unknown. In our study, we discovered that the expression of YBX1 was increased in nasopharyngeal carcinoma tissues. YBX1 protein levels positively correlated with T stage and metastasis of NPC patients. Moreover, expression of YBX1 was negatively correlated with membrane E-cadherin levels and positively correlated with Vimentin expression. In vitro, the expression of YBX1 was closely related to the invasive and migratory ability of nasopharyngeal carcinoma cells. Knockdown of YBX1 inhibited migration and invasion in 5–8F cells, and over-expression of YBX1 promoted CNE1 cells migration and invasion. Transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) treatment led to epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in CNE1 cells accompanied by elevated YBX1 expression. On the contrary, knockdown of YBX1 partially inhibited the TGF-β1-induced CNE1 cell migration, together with changes of EMT-associated markers. Our study revealed that TGF-β1/YBX1 signaling might be one of novel mechanisms mediating EMT in NPC, providing a new target for the treatment of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Highlights YBX1 overexpressed in cytoplasmic of nasopharyngeal carcinoma cells. YBX1 expression associated with the EMT process in nasopharyngeal carcinoma. TGF-β1 induced YBX1 expression in NPC cell lines. TGF-β1/YBX1 signaling mediated the EMT process in NPC cell lines.
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