The roles of the preproghrelin-derived peptides - ghrelin, desacyl ghrelin and obestatin - in prostate cancer

de Amorim, Laura Miranda (2012) The roles of the preproghrelin-derived peptides - ghrelin, desacyl ghrelin and obestatin - in prostate cancer. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer related deaths in Western men. Despite the significant improvements in current treatment techniques, there is no cure for advanced metastatic, castrate-resistant disease. Early detection and prevention of progression to a castrate-resistant state may provide new strategies to improve survival. A number of growth factors have been shown to act in an autocrine/paracrine manner to modulate prostate cancer tumour growth. Our laboratory has previously shown that ghrelin and its receptors (the functional GHS-R1a and the non-functional GHS-R1b) are expressed in prostate cancer specimens and cell lines. We have shown that ghrelin increases cell proliferation in the PC3 and LNCaP prostate cancer cell lines through activation of ERK1/2, suggesting that ghrelin could regulate prostate cancer cell growth and play a role in the progression of the disease. Ghrelin is a 28 amino-acid peptide hormone, identified to be the natural ligand of the growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHS-R1a). It is well characterised as a growth hormone releasing and as an orexigenic peptide that stimulates appetite and feeding and regulates energy expenditure and bodyweight. In addition to its orexigenic properties, ghrelin has been shown to play a regulatory role in a number of systems, including the reproductive, immune and cardiovascular systems and may play a role in a number of pathological conditions such as chronic heart failure, anorexia, cachexia, obesity, diabetes and cancer. In cancer, ghrelin and its receptor are expressed in a range of tumours and cancer cell lines and ghrelin has been demonstrated to modulate cell proliferation, apoptosis, migration and invasion in some cell types.

The ghrelin gene (GHRL) encodes preproghrelin peptide, which is processed to produce three currently known functional peptides - ghrelin, desacyl ghrelin and obestatin. Prohormone convertases (PCs) have been shown to cleave the preproghrelin peptide into two primary products - the 28 amino acid peptide, ghrelin, and the remaining 117 amino acid C-terminal peptide, C-ghrelin. C-ghrelin can then be further processed to produce the 23 amino acid peptide, obestatin. Ghrelin circulates in two different forms - an octanoylated form (known as ghrelin) and a non-octanoylated form, desacyl ghrelin. The unique post-translational addition of octanoic acid to the serine 3 residue of the propeptide chain to form acylated ghrelin is catalysed by ghrelin O-acyltransferase (GOAT). This modification is necessary for binding of ghrelin to its only known functional receptor, the GHS-R1a. As desacyl ghrelin cannot bind and activate the GHS-R1a, it was initially thought to be an inactive peptide, despite the fact that it circulates at much higher levels than ghrelin. Further research has demonstrated that desacyl ghrelin is biologically active and shares some of the actions of ghrelin, as well as having some opposing and distinct roles. Interestingly, both ghrelin and desacyl ghrelin have been shown to modulate apoptosis, cell differentiation and proliferation in some cell types, and to stimulate cell proliferation through activation of ERK1/2 and PI3K/Akt pathways.

The third known peptide product of the ghrelin preprohormone, obestatin, was initially thought to oppose the actions of ghrelin in appetite regulation and food intake and to mediate its effects through the G protein-coupled receptor 39 (GPR39). Subsequent research failed to reproduce the initial findings, however, and the possible anorexigenic effects of obestatin, as well as the identity of its receptor, remain unclear. Obestatin plays some important physiological roles, including roles in improving memory, the inhibition of thirst and anxiety, increased secretion of pancreatic juice, and regulation of cell proliferation, survival, apoptosis and differentiation. Preliminary studies have also shown that obestatin stimulates cell proliferation in some cell types through activation of ERK1/2, Akt and PKC pathways.

Overall, however, at the commencement of this PhD project, relatively little was known regarding the functions and mechanisms of action of the preproghrelin-derived functional peptides in modulating prostate cancer cell proliferation. The roles of obestatin, and desacyl ghrelin as potential growth factors had not previously been investigated, and the potential expression and regulation of the preproghrelin processing enzymes, GOAT and prohormone convertases was unknown in prostate cancer cell lines. Therefore, the overall objectives of this study were to: 1. investigate the effects of obestatin on cell proliferation and signaling in prostate cancer cell lines 2. compare the effects of desacyl ghrelin and ghrelin on cell proliferation and signaling in prostate cancer cell lines 3. investigate whether prostate cancer cell lines possess the necessary enzymatic machinery to produce ghrelin and desacyl ghrelin and if these peptides can regulate GOAT expression Our laboratory has previously shown that ghrelin stimulates cell proliferation in the PC3 and LNCaP prostate cancer cell line through activation of the ERK1/2 pathway. In this study it has been demonstrated that treatments with either ghrelin, desacyl ghrelin or obestatin over 72 hours significantly increased cell proliferation in the PC3 prostate cancer cell line but had no significant effect in the RWPE-1 transformed normal prostate cell line. Ghrelin (1000nM) stimulated cell proliferation in the PC3 prostate cancer cell line by 31.66 6.68% (p<0.01) with the WST-1 method, and 13.55 5.68% (p<0.05) with the CyQUANT assay. Desacyl ghrelin (1000nM) increased cell proliferation in PC3 cells by 21.73 2.62% (p<0.01) (WST-1), and 15.46 7.05% (p<0.05) (CyQUANT) above untreated control. Obestatin (1000nM) induced a 28.37 7.47% (p<0.01) (WST-1) and 12.14 7.47% (p<0.05) (CyQUANT) significant increase in cell proliferation in the PC3 prostate cancer cell line. Ghrelin and desacyl ghrelin treatments stimulated Akt and ERK phosphorylation across a range of concentrations (p<0.01). Obestatin treatment significantly stimulated Akt, ERK and PKC phosphorylation (p<0.05). Through the use of specific inhibitors, the MAPK inhibitor U0126 and the Akt1/2 kinase inhibitor, it was demonstrated that ghrelin- and obestatin-induced cell proliferation in the PC3 prostate cancer cell line is mediated through activation of ERK1/2 and Akt pathways. Although desacyl ghrelin significantly stimulated Akt and ERK phosphorylation, U0126 failed to prevent desacyl ghrelin-induced cell proliferation suggesting ghrelin and desacyl ghrelin might act through different mechanisms to increase cell proliferation. Ghrelin and desacyl ghrelin have shown a proliferative effect in osteoblasts, pancreatic -cells and cardiomyocytes through activation of ERK1/2 and PI3K/Akt pathways. Here it has been shown that ghrelin and its non-acylated form exert the same function and stimulate cell proliferation in the PC3 prostate cancer cell line through activation of the Akt pathway. Ghrelin-induced proliferation was also mediated through activation of the ERK1/2 pathway, however, desacyl ghrelin seems to stimulate cell proliferation in an ERK1/2-independent manner. As desacyl ghrelin does not bind and activate GHSR1a, the only known functional ghrelin receptor, the finding that both ghrelin and desacyl ghrelin stimulate cell proliferation in the PC3 cell line suggests that these peptides could be acting through the yet unidentified alternative ghrelin receptor in this cell type. Obestatin treatment also stimulated PKC phosphorylation, however, a direct role for this pathway in stimulating cell proliferation could not be proven using available PKC pathway inhibitors, as they caused significant cell death over the extended timeframe of the cell proliferation assays. Obestatin has been shown to stimulate cell proliferation through activation of PKC isoforms in human retinal epithelial cells and in the human gastric cancer cell line KATO-III.

We have demonstrated that all of the prostate-derived cell lines examined (PC3, LNCaP, DU145, 22Rv1, RWPE-1 and RWPE-2) expressed GOAT and at least one of the prohormone convertases, which are known to cleave the proghrelin peptide, PC1/3, PC2 and furin, at the mRNA level. These cells, therefore, are likely to possess the necessary machinery to cleave the preproghrelin protein and to produce the mature ghrelin and desacyl ghrelin peptides. In addition to prohormone convertases, the presence of octanoic acid is essential for acylated ghrelin production. In this study octanoic acid supplementation significantly increased cell proliferation in the PC3 prostate cancer cell line by over 20% compared to untreated controls (p<0.01), but surprisingly, not in the DU145, LNCaP or 22Rv1 prostate cancer cell lines or in the RWPE-1 and RWPE-2 prostate-derived cell lines. In addition, we demonstrated that exogenous ghrelin induced a statistically significant two-fold decrease in GOAT mRNA expression in the PC3 cell line (p<0.05), suggesting that ghrelin could pontentially downregulate its own acylation and, therefore, regulate the balance between ghrelin and desacyl ghrelin. This was not observed, however, in the DU145 and LNCaP prostate cancer cell lines. The GOAT-ghrelin system represents a direct link between ingested nutrients and regulation of ghrelin production and the ghrelin/desacyl ghrelin ratio. Regulation of ghrelin acylation is a potentially attractive and desirable tool for the development of better therapies for a number of pathological conditions where ghrelin has been shown to play a key role.

The finding that desacyl ghrelin stimulates cell proliferation in the PC3 prostate cancer cell line, and responds to ghrelin in the same way, suggests that this cell line expresses an alternative ghrelin receptor. Although all the cell lines examined expressed both GHS-R1a and GHS-R1b mRNA, it remains uncertain whether these cell lines express the unidentified alternative ghrelin receptor. It is possible that the varied responses seen could be due to the expression of different ghrelin receptors in different cell lines. In addition to GOAT, prohormone convertases and octanoic acid availability may regulate the production of different peptides from the ghrelin preprohormone.

The studies presented in this thesis provide significant new information regarding the roles and mechanisms of action of the preproghrelin-derived peptides, ghrelin, desacyl ghrelin and obestatin, in modulating prostate cancer cell line proliferation. A number of key questions remain to be resolved, however, including the identification of the alternative ghrelin/desacyl ghrelin receptor, the identification of the obestatin receptor, a clarification of the signaling mechanisms which mediate cell proliferation in response to obestatin treatment and a better understanding of the regulation at both the gene and post-translational levels of functional peptide generation. Further studies investigating the role of the ghrelin axis using in vivo prostate cancer models may be warranted. Until these issues are determined, the potential for the ghrelin axis, to be recognised as a novel useful target for therapy for cancer or other pathologies will be uncertain.

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ID Code: 53260
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Herington, Adrian & Chopin, Lisa
Keywords: ghrelin, desacyl ghrelin, obestatin, GHS-R1a, proliferation, signalling pathways, MAPK, ERK1/2, Akt, PKC, ghrelin O-acyltransferase, octanoic acid, prostate cancer
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 21 Aug 2012 04:58
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015 01:59

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