Oncogenic Functions of the Cancer-Testis Antigen SSX on the Proliferation, Survival, and Signaling Pathways of Cancer Cells

SSX is a transcription factor with elusive oncogenic functions expressed in a variety of human tumors of epithelial and mesenchymal origin. It has raised substantial interest as a target for cancer therapy since it elicits humoral responses and displays restricted expression to cancer, spermatogonia and mesenchymal stem cells. Here, we investigated the oncogenic properties of SSX by employing a RNA interference to knock-down the endogenous expression of SSX in melanoma and osteosarcoma cell lines. Depletion of SSX expression resulted in reduced proliferation with cells accumulating in the G1 phase of the cell cycle. We found that the growth promoting and survival properties of SSX are mediated in part though modulation of MAPK/Erk and Wnt signaling pathways, since SSX silencing inhibited Erk-mediated signaling and transcription of cMYC and Akt-1. We also found that SSX forms a transient complex with β-catenin at the G1-S phase boundary resulting in the altered expression of β-catenin target genes such as E-cadherin, snail-2 and vimentin, involved in epithelial-mesenchymal transitions. Importantly the silencing of SSX expression in in vivo significantly impaired the growth of melanoma tumor xenografts. Tumor biopsies from SSX silenced tumors displayed reduced cyclin A staining, indicative of low proliferation and predominantly cycloplasmic β-catenin compared to SSX expressing tumors. The present study demonstrates a previously unknown function of SSX, that as an oncogene and as a tumor target for the development of novel anti-cancer drugs.