Malignant cancer cells frequently secrete significant amounts of transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β), hyaluronan (HA) and hyaluronidases to facilitate metastasizing to target organs. In a non-canonical signaling, TGF-β binds membrane hyaluronidase Hyal-2 for recruiting tumor suppressors WWOX and Smad4, and the resulting Hyal-2/WWOX/Smad4 complex is accumulated in the nucleus to enhance SMAD-promoter dependent transcriptional activity. Yeast two-hybrid analysis showed that WWOX acts as a bridge to bind both Hyal-2 and Smad4. When WWOX-expressing cells were stimulated with high molecular weight HA, an increased formation of endogenous Hyal-2/WWOX/Smad4 complex occurred rapidly, followed by relocating to the nuclei in 20-40 min. In WWOX-deficient cells, HA failed to induce Smad2/3/4 relocation to the nucleus. To prove the signaling event, we designed a real time tri-molecular FRET analysis and revealed that HA induces the signaling pathway from ectopic Smad4 to WWOX and finally to p53, as well as from Smad4 to Hyal-2 and then to WWOX. An increased binding of the Smad4/Hyal-2/WWOX complex occurs with time in the nucleus that leads to bubbling cell death. In contrast, HA increases the binding of Smad4/WWOX/p53, which causes membrane blebbing but without cell death. In traumatic brain injury-induced neuronal death, the Hyal-2/WWOX complex was accumulated in the apoptotic nuclei of neurons in the rat brains in 24 hr post injury, as determined by immunoelectron microscopy. Together, HA activates the Hyal-2/WWOX/Smad4 signaling and causes bubbling cell death when the signaling complex is overexpressed.
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