Somatic copy-number alterations (CNA) promote cancer, but the underlying driver genes may not be comprehensively identified if only the functions of the encoded proteins are considered. mRNAs can act as competitive endogenous RNAs (ceRNA), which sponge miRNAs to posttranscriptionally regulate gene expression in a protein coding–independent manner. We investigated the contribution of ceRNAs to the oncogenic effects of CNAs. Chromosome 1q gains promoted melanoma progression and metastasis at least in part through overexpression of three mRNAs with ceRNA activity: CEP170, NUCKS1, and ZC3H11A. These ceRNAs enhanced melanoma metastasis by sequestering tumor suppressor miRNAs. Orthogonal genetic assays with miRNA inhibitors and target site blockers, along with rescue experiments, demonstrated that miRNA sequestration is critical for the oncogenic effects of CEP170, NUCKS1, and ZC3H11A mRNAs. Furthermore, chromosome 1q ceRNA-mediated miRNA sequestration alleviated the repression of several prometastatic target genes. This regulatory RNA network was evident in other cancer types, suggesting chromosome 1q ceRNA deregulation as a common driver of cancer progression. Taken together, this work demonstrates that ceRNAs mediate the oncogenicity of somatic CNAs.

Significance:

The function of CEP170, NUCKS1, and ZC3H11A mRNAs as competitive endogenous RNAs that sequester tumor suppressor microRNAs underlies the oncogenic activity of chromosome 1q gains.

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