J Cancer 2021; 12(22):6905-6920. doi:10.7150/jca.57477 This issue

Research Paper

TUG1 promotes the expression of IFITM3 in hepatocellular carcinoma by competitively binding to miR-29a

Weiwei Liu*, Qian Feng*, Wenjun Liao*, Enliang Li, Linquan Wu

Department of Hepatobiliary Surgery, the Second Affiliated Hospital of Nanchang University, 1 Mindle Road, Nanchang Jiangxi 330006, P.R. China.
*These authors contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). See http://ivyspring.com/terms for full terms and conditions.
Liu W, Feng Q, Liao W, Li E, Wu L. TUG1 promotes the expression of IFITM3 in hepatocellular carcinoma by competitively binding to miR-29a. J Cancer 2021; 12(22):6905-6920. doi:10.7150/jca.57477. Available from https://www.jcancer.org/v12p6905.htm

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Graphic abstract

Purpose: Numerous studies have demonstrated the important relationship of TUG1 with tumorigenesis. The present study investigated the role of TUG1 and its downstream genes miR-29a and IFITM3 in the occurrence and development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We found that both TUG1 and IFITM3 genes are highly expressed in HCC, whereas the expression of miR-29a is low in HCC. Downregulation of TUG1 reduces cell invasion, metastasis, and cell proliferation ability and promotes cell apoptosis. Simultaneous downregulation of miR-29a reverses this effect. Moreover, IFITM3, as the target gene of miR-29a, is positively regulated by TUG1. However, the adjustment relationship between these three components is still unknown and thus warrants further investigation. The objective of this study was to investigate the regulatory relationship between TUG1, miR-29a, and IFITM3 in human liver cancer.

Patients and methods: The expression of TUG1 and miR-29a in tumor tissues and adjacent non-tumor tissues of 65 patients with HCC was detected by real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). The migration and invasion of liver cancer cells were studied by the wound healing assay and the Transwell method, respectively. The apoptosis rate of HCC cells was detected by flow cytometry, and the proliferation rate of hepatoma cells was detected by the 5-ethynyl-2'-deoxyuridine (EdU) method. Immunofluorescence was used to detect the expression of TUG1 and IFITM3 in HCC-LM3 and HL-7702 cell lines. The relationship between TUG1 and miR-29a was detected using a double luciferase reporter assay and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). Tumors were established in vivo by subcutaneous injection of HCC cells into nude mice and injection of these cells into the tail vein. Western blotting was used to quantify the biomarkers.

Results: The expression of TUG1 increased significantly in tumor tissues and HCC cells. Moreover, the expression of miR-29a in liver cancer tissues was significantly lower than that in normal human liver tissues. The expression of TUG1 in liver cancer tissue was negatively correlated with miR-29a. Knockdown of TUG1 weakened the invasion, migration, and proliferation of HCC cells, and enhanced their apoptosis. A simultaneous knockdown of miR-29a enhanced cell invasion, metastasis, and cell proliferation, whereas the apoptosis ability decreased. As a target gene of miR-29a, IFITM3 is not only negatively regulated by miR-29a, but also positively regulated by TUG1. Therefore, TUG1 regulates IFITM3 in HCC cells by competitively binding to miR-29a, thus affecting cell invasion, migration, proliferation, and apoptosis.

Conclusion: As a CeRNA, TUG1 competitively binds to miR-29a to regulate IFITM3 and promote the development of liver cancer. Downregulation of TUG1 can significantly inhibit the migration, invasion, and proliferation of liver cancer cells. Based on these results, we conclude that TUG1 could serve as a key gene to improve the prognosis of patients with HCC.

Keywords: TUG1, miR-29a, IFITM3, HCC, biological function