Despite being in the same pathway, mutations of KRAS and BRAF in colorectal carcinomas (CRCs) determine distinct progression courses. ZEB1 induces an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and is associated with worse progression in most carcinomas. Using samples from patients with CRC, mouse models of KrasG12D and BrafV600E CRC, and a Zeb1-deficient mouse, we show that ZEB1 had opposite functions in KRAS- and BRAF-mutant CRCs. In KrasG12D CRCs, ZEB1 was correlated with a worse prognosis and a higher number of larger and undifferentiated (mesenchymal or EMT-like) tumors. Surprisingly, in BrafV600E CRC, ZEB1 was associated with better prognosis; fewer, smaller, and more differentiated (reduced EMT) primary tumors; and fewer metastases. ZEB1 was positively correlated in KRAS-mutant CRC cells and negatively in BRAF-mutant CRC cells with gene signatures for EMT, cell proliferation and survival, and ERK signaling. On a mechanistic level, ZEB1 knockdown in KRAS-mutant CRC cells increased apoptosis and reduced clonogenicity and anchorage-independent growth; the reverse occurred in BRAFV600E CRC cells. ZEB1 is associated with better prognosis and reduced EMT signature in patients harboring BRAF CRCs. These data suggest that ZEB1 can function as a tumor suppressor in BRAF-mutant CRCs, highlighting the importance of considering the KRAS/BRAF mutational background of CRCs in therapeutic strategies targeting ZEB1/EMT.
Ester Sánchez-Tilló, Leire Pedrosa, Ingrid Vila, Yongxu Chen, Balázs Győrffy, Lidia Sánchez-Moral, Laura Siles, Juan J. Lozano, Anna Esteve-Codina, Douglas S. Darling, Miriam Cuatrecasas, Antoni Castells, Joan Maurel, Antonio Postigo