Research ArticleBIOCHEMISTRY

BRK phosphorylates SMAD4 for proteasomal degradation and inhibits tumor suppressor FRK to control SNAIL, SLUG, and metastatic potential

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Science Advances  23 Oct 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 10, eaaw3113
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw3113


The tumor-suppressing function of SMAD4 is frequently subverted during mammary tumorigenesis, leading to cancer growth, invasion, and metastasis. A long-standing concept is that SMAD4 is not regulated by phosphorylation but ubiquitination. Our search for signaling pathways regulated by breast tumor kinase (BRK), a nonreceptor protein tyrosine kinase that is up-regulated in ~80% of invasive ductal breast tumors, led us to find that BRK competitively binds and phosphorylates SMAD4 and regulates transforming growth factor–β/SMAD4 signaling pathway. A constitutively active BRK (BRK-Y447F) phosphorylates SMAD4, resulting in its recognition by the ubiquitin-proteasome system, which accelerates SMAD4 degradation. Activated BRK–mediated degradation of SMAD4 is associated with the repression of tumor suppressor gene FRK and increased expression of mesenchymal markers, SNAIL, and SLUG. Thus, our data suggest that combination therapies targeting activated BRK signaling may have synergized the benefits in the treatment of SMAD4 repressed cancers.

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