Mutations in EGFR drive tumor growth but render tumor cells sensitive to treatment with EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI). Phenotypic alteration in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been linked to the TKI resistance in lung adenocarcinoma. However, the mechanism underlying this resistance remains unclear. Here we report that high expression of a neuroendocrine factor termed VGF induces the transcription factor TWIST1 to facilitate TKI resistance, EMT, and cancer dissemination in a subset of lung adenocarcinoma cells. VGF silencing resensitized EGFR-mutated lung adenocarcinoma cells to TKI. Conversely, overexpression of VGF in sensitive cells conferred resistance to TKIs and induced EMT, increasing migratory and invasive behaviors. Correlation analysis revealed a significant association of VGF expression with advanced tumor grade and poor survival in patients with lung adenocarcinoma. In a mouse xenograft model of lung adenocarcinoma, suppressing VGF expression was sufficient to attenuate tumor growth. Overall, our findings show how VGF can confer TKI resistance and trigger EMT, suggesting its potential utility as a biomarker and therapeutic target in lung adenocarcinoma.
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