Micropeptides are a recently discovered class of molecules that play vital roles in various cellular processes, including differentiation, proliferation, and apoptosis. Here, we sought to identify cancer-associated micropeptides and to uncover their mechanistic functions. A micropeptide named short trans-membrane protein 1 (STMP1) that localizes at the inner mitochondrial membrane was identified to be upregulated in various cancer types and associated with metastasis and recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma. Both gain- and loss-of-function studies revealed that STMP1 increased dynamin-related protein 1 (DRP1) activation to promote mitochondrial fission and enhanced migration of tumor cells. STMP1 silencing inhibited in vivo tumor metastasis in xenograft mouse models. Overexpression of STMP1 led to redistribution of mitochondria to the leading edge of cells and enhanced lamellipodia formation. Treatment with a DRP1 inhibitor abrogated the promotive effect of STMP1 on mitochondrial fission, lamellipodia formation, and tumor cell migration in vitro and metastasis in vivo. Furthermore, STMP1 interacted with myosin heavy chain 9 (MYH9), the subunit of non-muscle myosin II, and silencing MYH9 abrogated STMP1-induced DRP1 activation, mitochondrial fission, and cell migration. Collectively, this study identifies STMP1 as a critical regulator of metastasis and a novel unit of the mitochondrial fission protein machinery, providing a potential therapeutic target for treating metastases.

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