Purpose Upper urinary tract (pyelocalyceal cavities and ureter) urothelial carcinoma is a relatively rare neoplastic disease. Although diagnosis and treatment of this tumor variant have improved significantly, accurate risk stratification remains a challenge. To identify the putative oncogene involved in urothelial carcinoma progression we performed bioinformatics guided experimental investigation targeting chromosome 19q13. Materials and Methods We investigated the effects of EMP3 on cancer cell growth, migration and adhesion in transfection and siRNA experiments in vitro. Crosstalk of integrins or ErbB2 with EMP3 was examined by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction and immunoblot. The potential involvement of epigenetic alterations of EMP3 in vitro and in vivo was analyzed by methylation specific polymerase chain reaction. To validate clinical relevance we measured EMP3 expression at the mRNA and protein levels in a cohort of 77 patients with upper urinary tract urothelial carcinoma and compared prognostic significance in relation to that of ErbB2 expression. Results We noted functional crosstalk between ErbB2 and EMP3 in vitro. EMP3 over expression promoted cancer cell proliferation and migration but suppressed cell adhesion in vitro. EMP3 activated the ErbB2-PI3K-AKT pathway to increase cell growth in vitro. In the clinical cohort Kaplan-Meier survival estimates showed that ErbB2 and EMP3 co-expression was the most important indicator of progression-free and metastasis-free survival in patients with upper urinary tract urothelial carcinoma (log rank test p = 0.018 and 0.04, respectively). Conclusions EMP3 is an important prognostic indicator for selecting patients with upper urinary tract urothelial carcinoma for more intensive therapy. EMP3 is an innovative co-targeting candidate for designing ErbB2 based cancer therapy.
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