Ubiquitin carboxyl-terminal hydrolase isozyme L1/UCHL1 suppresses epithelial-mesenchymal transition and is under-expressed in cadmium-transformed human bronchial epithelial cells

Dan-Dan Wu, Yan-Ming Xu, De-Ju Chen, Zhan-Ling Liang, Xu-Li Chen, Machteld N Hylkema, Marianne G Rots, Sheng-Qing Li, Andy T Y Lau*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Cadmium (Cd), a highly toxic heavy metal, is widespreadly distributed in the environment. Chronic exposure to Cd is associated with the development of several diseases including cancers. Over the decade, many researches have been carried on various models to examine the acute effects of Cd; yet, limited knowledge is known about the long-term Cd exposure, especially in the human lung cells. Previously, we showed that chronic Cd-exposed human bronchial epithelial BEAS-2B cells exhibited transformed cell properties, such as anchorage-independent growth, augmented cell migration, and epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT). To study these Cd-transformed cells more comprehensively, here, we further characterized their subproteomes. Overall, a total of 63 differentially expressed proteins between Cd-transformed and passage-matched control cells among the five subcellular fractions (cytoplasmic, membrane, nuclear-soluble, chromatin-bound, and cytoskeletal) were identified by mass spectrometric analysis and database searching. Interestingly, we found that the thiol protease ubiquitin carboxyl-terminal hydrolase isozyme L1 (UCHL1) is one of the severely downregulated proteins in the Cd-transformed cells. Notably, the EMT phenotype of Cd-transformed cells can be suppressed by forced ectopic expression of UCHL1, suggesting UCHL1 as a crucial modulator in the maintenance of the proper differentiation status in lung epithelial cells. Since EMT is considered as a critical step during malignant cell transformation, finding novel cellular targets that can antagonize this transition may lead to more efficient strategies to inhibit cancer development. Our data report for the first time that UCHL1 may play a function in the suppression of EMT in Cd-transformed human lung epithelial cells, indicating that UCHL1 might be a new therapeutic target for chronic Cd-induced carcinogenesis. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)497–513
Number of pages17
JournalCell biology and toxicology
Issue number4
Early online date10-Oct-2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug-2021


  • BEAS-2B
  • Chronic cadmium exposure
  • Human lung cells
  • Subcellular proteomics
  • Ubiquitin carboxyl-terminal hydrolase isozyme L1
  • Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
  • PGP9.5

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