The helicase-like transcription factor (HLTF) in cancer: loss of function or oncomorphic conversion of a tumor suppressor?
The Helicase-Like Transcription Factor (HLTF/SMARCA3) belongs to the family of SWI/SNF proteins that use the energy of ATP hydrolysis to remodel chromatin in a variety of cellular processes. Several SWI/SNF genes are disrupted in cancer, suggesting a role of tumor suppressor. Similarly, the HLTF gene was recently found to be inactivated by hypermethylation in a number of advanced colon and gastric tumors. However, other evidences indicated a 20-fold HLTF overexpression in cell lines derived from various neoplasms (ovary, breast, cervix, kidney...). In the present study, we investigated HLTF expression by immunohistochemistry in a model of kidney tumors induced by continuous administration of diethylstilbestrol to male Syrian golden hamsters. A strong labeling was already detected in small tumor buds, making HLTF an early cancer marker in this model. Although every cell stained for HLTF at this early stage, the number of HLTF-positive cells decreased to 10% with cancer progression, and these positive cells were dispersed in the tumor mass. HLTF expression was conserved in the HKT-1097 cell line established from kidney tumors, but again only 10% of positive cells were found in xenografts produced by HKT-1097 cells in nude mice. In conclusion, our data suggest that HLTF gene activation is linked to initial steps of carcinogenesis in this model and should be investigated in early stages of other neoplasms.