Departments of Pharmacology; Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322; Departments of Winship Cancer Institute; Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322.
Identification of novel molecular markers and therapeutic targets may improve survival rates for patients with ovarian cancer. In the current study, immunohistochemical (IHC) analysis of two human ovarian tumor tissue arrays showed high staining for GDF15 in a majority of tissues. Exogenous stimulation of ovarian cancer cell lines with recombinant human GDF15 (rhGDF15) or stable over-expression of a GDF15 expression plasmid promoted anchorage-independent growth, increased invasion, and up-regulation of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). MMP inhibition suppressed GDF15-mediated invasion. In addition, IHC analysis of human ovarian tumor tissue arrays indicated that GDF15 expression correlated significantly with high MMP2 and MMP9 expression. Exogenous and endogenous GDF15 over-expression stimulated phosphorylation of p38, Erk1/2, and Akt. Pharmacologic inhibition of p38, MEK, or PI3K suppressed GDF15-stimulated growth. Further, proliferation, growth, and invasion of GDF15 stable clones were blocked by rapamycin. IHC analysis demonstrated significant correlation between GDF15 expression and phosphorylation of mTOR. Finally, knockdown of endogenous GDF15 or neutralization of secreted GDF15 suppressed invasion and growth of a GDF15-over-expressing ovarian cancer cell line. These data indicate that GDF15 over-expression, which occurred in a majority of human ovarian cancers, promoted rapamycin-sensitive invasion and growth of ovarian cancer cells. Inhibition of mTOR may be an effective therapeutic strategy for ovarian cancers that over-express GDF15. Future studies should examine GDF15 as a novel molecular target for blocking ovarian cancer progression.