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Dickkopf-1 (DKK1) promotes tumor growth via Akt-phosphorylation and independently of Wnt-axis in Barrett's associated esophageal adenocarcinoma. Am J Cancer Res 2019;9(2):330-346



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Esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) is still associated with poor prognosis, despite modern multi-modal therapies. New molecular markers, which control cell cycle and promote lymph node metastases or tumor growth, may introduce novel target therapies. Dickkopf-1 (DKK1) is a secreted glycoprotein that blocks the oncogenic Wnt/β-catenin signaling and its aberrant expression has been observed in many malignancies, including EAC. In this study, we investigated the biological role of DKK1 in EAC. Analysis of DKK1 and active β-catenin expression in human esophageal tissues confirmed a simultaneous DKK1-overexpression together with aberrant activation of β-catenin signaling in EAC in comparison with Barrett's and healthy mucosa. To elucidate the molecular role of DKK1, the OE33 adenocarcinoma cells, which were found to overexpress DKK1, were subjected to functional and molecular assays following siRNA-mediated DKK1-knockdown. At the functional level, OE33 cell viability, proliferation, migration and invasion were significantly attenuated by the absence of DKK1. At the molecular level, neither DKK1-knockdown nor application of exogenous recombinant DKK1 were found to alter the baseline β-catenin signaling in OE33 cells. However, DKK1-knockdown significantly abrogated downstream Akt-phosphorylation. On the other hand, the Wnt-agonist, Wnt3a, restored the Akt-phorphorylation in the absence of DKK1, without, however, being able to further stimulate β-catenin transcription. These findings suggest that the β-catenin transcriptional activity in EAC is independent of Wnt3a/DKK1 site-of-action and define an oncogenic function for DKK1 in this type of malignancy via distinct activation of Akt-mediated intracellular pathways and independently of Wnt-axis inhibition. Taken together, DKK1 may present a novel therapeutic target in EAC.

Author List

Lyros O, Lamprecht AK, Nie L, Thieme R, Götzel K, Gasparri M, Haasler G, Rafiee P, Shaker R, Gockel I


Mario G. Gasparri MD Professor in the Surgery department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Reza Shaker MD Assoc Provost, Sr Assoc Dean, Ctr Dir, Chief, Prof in the Medicine department at Medical College of Wisconsin