Overexpression of NeuAcalpha2-3Galbeta1-4Glcbeta1-Cer (GM3), a major ganglioside of cutaneous tumor cell membranes, inhibits ligand-dependent and ligand-independent activation of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor in normal and neoplastic epithelial cells. This leads to the suppression of Ras/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) activation and, in the presence of EGF or fibronectin, inhibits cell proliferation. However, some tumor cells show increased levels of GM3, and vaccines that target GM3 can inhibit the growth of neoplastic cells in vivo, especially melanomas. We report that in the presence of urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA), overexpression of GM3 paradoxically increases the proliferation of carcinoma cells by augmenting ERK-independent p70S6 kinase activation. Functional blockade of uPA receptor (uPAR) or inhibition of p70S6 kinase, but not inhibition of Ras/ERK signaling, suppresses this GM3-induced stimulation of cell proliferation. The ERK-independent activation of p70S6 kinase involves phosphorylation at threonine-389, threonine-421/serine-424, and serine-411 sites with intermediate phosphatidylinositol 3 kinase and protein kinase C-zeta activation. These studies implicate gangliosides as enhancers of uPAR-related signaling and suggest that the response to GM3 depends on the local concentration of uPA. Therapeutic modalities that target or supplement gangliosides may require concomitant treatment that suppresses EGFR or uPAR signaling, respectively, to control neoplastic cell proliferation.

DOI 10.1038/sj.jid.5700469