Mucin 1 C-terminal subunit (MUC1-C) has been introduced as a key regulator for acquiring drug resistance in various cancers, but the functional role of MUC1-C in urothelial carcinoma (UC) cells remains unknown. We aimed to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying the acquisition of cisplatin (CDDP) resistance through MUC1-C oncoprotein in UC cells. MUC1-C expression was examined immunohistochemically in tumor specimens of 159 UC patients who received CDDP-based perioperative chemotherapy. As a result, moderate to high MUC1-C expression was independently associated with poor survival in UC patients. Using human bladder cancer cell lines and CDDP-resistant (CR) cell lines, we compared the expression levels of MUC1-C, multiple drug resistance 1 (MDR1), the PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway, and x-cystine/glutamate transporter (xCT) to elucidate the biological mechanisms contributing to the acquisition of chemoresistance. MUC1-C was strongly expressed in CR cell lines, followed with MDR1 expression via activation of the PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway. MUC1-C also stabilized the expression of xCT, which enhanced antioxidant defenses by increasing intracellular glutathione (GSH) levels. MUC1 down-regulation showed MDR1 inhibition along with PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway suppression. Moreover, it inhibited xCT stabilization and resulted in significant decreases in intracellular GSH levels and increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. The MUC1-C inhibitor restored sensitivity to CDDP in CR cells and UC murine xenograft models. In conclusion, we found that MUC1-C plays a pivotal role in the acquisition of CDDP resistance in UC cells, and therefore the combined treatment of CDDP with a MUC1-C inhibitor may become a novel therapeutic option in CR UC patients.
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