ABC member B5 (ABCB5) mediates multidrug resistance (MDR) in diverse malignancies and confers clinically relevant 5-fluorouracil resistance to CD133-expressing cancer stem cells in human colorectal cancer (CRC). Because of its recently identified roles in normal stem cell maintenance, we hypothesized that ABCB5 might also serve MDR-independent functions in CRC. Here, in a prospective clinical study of 142 CRC patients, we found that ABCB5 mRNA transcripts previously reported not to be significantly expressed in healthy peripheral blood mononuclear cells are significantly enriched in patient peripheral blood specimens compared with non-CRC controls and correlate with CRC disease progression. In human-to-mouse CRC tumor xenotransplantation models that exhibited circulating tumor mRNA, we observed that cancer-specific ABCB5 knockdown significantly reduced detection of these transcripts, suggesting that the knockdown inhibited tumor invasiveness. Mechanistically, this effect was associated with inhibition of expression and downstream signaling of AXL receptor tyrosine kinase (AXL), a proinvasive molecule herein shown to be produced by ABCB5-positive CRC cells. Importantly, rescue of AXL expression in ABCB5-knockdown CRC tumor cells restored tumor-specific transcript detection in the peripheral blood of xenograft recipients, indicating that ABCB5 regulates CRC invasiveness, at least in part, by enhancing AXL signaling. Our results implicate ABCB5 as a critical determinant of CRC invasiveness and suggest that ABCB5 blockade might represent a strategy in CRC therapy, even independently of ABCB5's function as an MDR mediator.
Chemistry and Pharmacology