Targeting an autocrine IL-6–SPINK1 signaling axis to suppress metastatic spread in ovarian clear cell carcinoma

Christine Mehner, Erin Miller, Alexandra Hockla, Mathew Coban, S. John Weroha, Derek C. Radisky, Evette S. Radisky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A major clinical challenge of ovarian cancer is the development of malignant ascites accompanied by widespread peritoneal metastasis. In ovarian clear cell carcinoma (OCCC), a challenging subtype of ovarian cancer, this problem is compounded by near-universal primary chemoresistance; patients with advanced stage OCCC thus lack effective therapies and face extremely poor survival rates. Here we show that tumor-cell-expressed serine protease inhibitor Kazal type 1 (SPINK1) is a key driver of OCCC progression and metastasis. Using cell culture models of human OCCC, we find that shRNA silencing of SPINK1 sensitizes tumor cells to anoikis and inhibits proliferation. Knockdown of SPINK1 in OCCC cells also profoundly suppresses peritoneal metastasis in mouse implantation models of human OCCC. We next identify a novel autocrine signaling axis in OCCC cells whereby tumor-cell-produced interleukin-6 (IL-6) regulates SPINK1 expression to stimulate a common protumorigenic gene expression pattern leading to anoikis resistance and proliferation of OCCC cells. We further demonstrate that this signaling pathway can be successfully interrupted with the IL-6Rα inhibitor tocilizumab, sensitizing cells to anoikis in vitro and reducing metastasis in vivo. These results suggest that clinical trials of IL-6 pathway inhibitors in OCCC may be warranted, and that SPINK1 might offer a candidate predictive biomarker in this population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6606-6618
Number of pages13
Issue number42
StatePublished - Oct 15 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


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