Extracellular and Macropinocytosis Internalized ATP Work Together to Induce Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition and Other Early Metastatic Activities in Lung Cancer

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© 2019 The Author(s). Background: Extracellular ATP (eATP) was shown to induce epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a very important early process in metastasis, in cancer cells via purinergic receptor signaling. However, the exact induction mechanisms are far from fully known. We previously described that eATP is internalized by cancer cells in vitro and in vivo by macropinocytosis in human non-small cell lung cancer A549 and other cancer cells, drastically elevates intracellular ATP levels, enhances cell proliferation and resistance to anticancer drugs. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that eATP and macropinocytosis-internalized eATP also induces EMT and other early steps of metastasis. Methods: Floating cells, fencing, and transwell assays were used to show that ATP induces cell detachment, new colony formation, migration and invasion in human A549 and other lung cancer cells. Western blots were used to detect ATP-induced changes in EMT-related proteins; Confocal microscopy was used to demonstrate ATP-induced metastasis-related cell morphological changes. Inhibitors and siRNA knockdowns were used to determine P2X7's involvement in the ATP-induced EMT. CRISPR-Cas9 knockout of the SNX5 gene was used to identify macropinocytosis' roles in EMT and cancer cell growth both in vitro and in vivo. Student t-test and one-way ANOVA were used to determine statistical significance, P < 0.05 was considered significant. Results: eATP potently induces expression of matrix metallopeptidases (MMPs), and detachment, EMT, migration, and invasion of lung cancer cells. The induction was independent of TGF-β and semi-independent of P2X7 activation. eATP performs these functions not only extracellularly, but also intracellularly after being macropinocytically internalized to further enhance P2X7-mediated EMT, filopodia formation and other early steps of metastasis. The knockout of macropinocytosis-associated SNX5 gene significantly reduces macropinocytosis, slows down tumor growth, and changes tumor morphology in nude mice. Conclusions: Collectively, these results show that eATP's functions in these processes not only from outside of cancer cells but also inside after being macropinocytotically internalized. These findings shed light on eATP's initiator and effector roles in almost every step in early metastasis, which calls for rethinking and rebalancing energy equations of intracellular biochemical reactions and the Warburg effect, and identifies eATP and macropinocytosis as novel targets for potentially slowing down EMT and preventing metastasis.