Role of DNA repair protein ERCC1 in skin cancer
Nucleotide excision repair (NER) is one of the major repair systems for removal of DNA lesions. The NER pathway has evolved mainly to repair UV-induced DNA damage and is also active against a broad range of endogenously generated oxidative lesions. Defects in NER result in the human inherited disorder xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), which is characterised by UV hypersensitivity and a 1000-fold increased risk of skin cancer. ERCC1 is essential for the NER pathway where it acts in a complex with the XPF protein to make the incision 5' to the DNA lesion. The normal 1.1kb Ercc1 transcript is expressed in all tissues. Our group has discovered a second larger 1.5 kb transcript, which initiates from an alternative promoter, and is the most abundant Ercc1 transcript in mouse skin. The aims of this project were: 1, To investigate the role of ERCC1 and of the 1.5kb skin specific Ercc1 transcript in protecting the skin against UV-induced DNA damage. 2, To study the importance of ERCC1 in melanoma skin cancer and investigate ERCC1as a possible target for therapy against melanoma. Using a panel of Ercc1 wild-type and deficient cells, we established a quantitative western blotting system to study the expression of ERCC1 in a range of mouse tissues and mouse and human cell types. Although the skin-specific Ercc1 transcript was found to be present at much higher levels in the skin of albino compared to pigmented mouse strains, this did not result in an elevated level of ERCC1 protein. We were also unable to demonstrate that UV-irradiation, or other stress-inducing treatments resulted in increased levels of ERCC1 protein in cultured mouse keratinocytes. We investigated the DNA methylation status of the normal Ercc1 promoter and that of two potential upstream promoter regions that were candidates for the source of the 1.5kb skin-specific Ercc1 transcript. We found no evidence that they were the source and, instead, used 5' RACE analysis to locate the skin-specific promoter to a polymorphic region 500bp upstream of the normal initiation site. In albino strains this region contains a SINE element, which we hypothesize could be involved in the production of the skin-specific Ercc1 transcript. We also investigated the protein level of ERCC1 and other DNA repair proteins, including XPF, MSH2, MSH6 and MLH1 in human melanoma cells and ovarian tumour cells. Significantly elevated protein levels of ERCC1 and XPF, as well as the mismatch repair protein MLH1 were found in melanoma cells. This could possibly contribute to the higher resistance to chemotherapy in melanoma, although the melanoma cell lines we tested did not show increased resistance to UV and cisplatin compared to the ovarian cancer cells tested. When Ercc1 proficient mouse melanoma cells were xenografted into nude mice the xenografts grew rapidly. Cisplatin treatment caused an initial shrinkage of the tumours, but re-growth rapidly followed. Cells re-isolated into culture from cisplatin treated xenografts had significantly higher levels of ERCC1 protein than either input cells, or cells re-isolated from untreated xenografts. An isogenic Ercc1 deficient derivative of the Ercc1 proficient mouse melanoma cell line grew as rapidly as the parent line in vitro, but grew much more slowly as xenografts. In addition, the xenografts shrank completely following cisplatin treatment and did not recover. This suggests that ERCC1 could be a drug target for melanoma therapy.