Deregulation of apoptosis is central to cancer progression and a major obstacle to effective treatment. The Bcl-2 gene family members play important roles in the regulation of apoptosis and are frequently altered in cancers. One such member is Bcl-2-related Ovarian Killer (BOK), which is a pro-apoptotic protein. Despite its critical role in apoptosis, the regulation of BOK expression is poorly understood in cancers. Here, we discovered that miR-296-5p, regulates BOK expression by binding to its 3’UTR in breast cancers. Furthermore, we show that depletion of BOK by either miR-296-5p or siRNA against BOK protected breast cancer cells from undergoing paclitaxel-induced apoptosis. Interestingly, miR-296-5p also regulates the expression of Mcl-1, which is an anti-apoptotic protein and is highly expressed in breast cancers. Our results reveal that Mcl-1 is important for suppression of BOK function as ectopic BOK expression induced Mcl-1, while silencing of BOK resulted in reduced Mcl-1 levels in breast cancer cells. In addition, we show that specific silencing of Mcl-1 reduced the long-term growth of breast cancer cells, whereas BOK inhibition didn’t have any effect on the growth of breast cancer cells. Surprisingly, silencing of both Mcl-1 and BOK rescued the effect of Mcl-1 silencing on breast cancer cell growth, suggesting that BOK is important for attenuating cell growth in the absence of Mcl-1, and also showing a tight feedback regulatory loop between BOK and Mcl-1 in breast cancer cells. Furthermore, we demonstrated that BOK protein level is regulated post-translationally by GSK3α and to some extent GSK3β as GSK3 inhibitor (CHIR99021) or silencing of GSK3 significantly increased BOK protein levels in breast cancer cells. Notably, we found that Mcl-1 interacts with GSK3α/β and silencing of Mcl-1 using siRNA significantly attenuated endogenous GSK3α/β levels in breast cancer cells. Taken together, our results suggest that fine tuning (either post-transcriptionally by miR-296-5p or post-translationally by GSK3) of the levels of pro-apoptotic protein BOK and anti-apoptotic protein Mcl-1 decide the fate of cancer cells to either undergo Apoptosis or proliferation.

Citation Format: Benjamin Chidi Onyeagucha, Panneerdoss Subbarayalu, Subapriya Rajamanickam, Nourhan Abdelfattah, Santosh Timilsina, Rosa M. Guzman, Carla Zeballos, Vijay Eedunuri, Sanjay Bansal, Hima Bansal, Tabrez A. Mohammad, Yidong Chen, Manjeet K. Rao. Novel regulatory mechanisms for Bcl2-related Ovarian Killer (BOK) expression in breast cancer [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017; 2017 Apr 1-5; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2017;77(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 2336. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2017-2336