MITF and PAX3 Play Distinct Roles in Melanoma Cell Migration; Outline of a “Genetic Switch” Theory Involving MITF and PAX3 in Proliferative and Invasive Phenotypes of Melanoma

“Melanoma is a very aggressive neoplasm with a propensity to undergo progression and invasion early in its evolution. The molecular pathways underpinning invasion in melanoma are now just beginning to be elucidated, but a clear understanding of the transition from non-invasive to invasive melanoma cells remains elusive. Microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF), is thought to be a central player in melanoma biology, and it controls many aspects of the phenotypic expression of the melanocytic lineage. However, recently the paired box transcription factor PAX3 was shown to transcriptionally activate POU3F2/BRN2, leading to direct repression of MITF expression. Here we present a theory to explain melanoma phenotype switching and discuss the predictions that this theory makes. One prediction is that independent and opposing roles for MITF and PAX3 in melanoma would be expected, and we present empirical evidence supporting this: in melanoma tissues PAX3 expression occurs independently of MITF, and PAX3 does not play a key role in melanoma cell proliferation. Furthermore, we show that knockdown of PAX3 inhibits cell migration in a group of “lower MITF” melanoma cell lines, while knockdown of MITF promotes cell migration in a complementary “higher MITF” group of melanoma cell lines. Moreover, the morphological effects of knocking down PAX3 versus MITF in melanoma cells were found to differ. While these data support the notion of independent roles for MITF and PAX3, additional experiments are required to provide robust examination of the proposed genetic switch theory. Only upon clear delineation of the mechanisms associated with progression and invasion of melanoma cells will successful treatments for invasive melanoma be developed.”