The expression levels of the RNA-binding protein Hu antigen (HuR) and vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C) were examined immunohistochemically in 81 non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) and 15 benign human lung tissues. HuR showed a nuclear overexpression in 82.7% (67/81) of NSCLC specimens. Cytoplasmic immunoreactivity for HuR was observed in 45.7% (37/81) of NSCLC, while only nuclear expression of HuR was observed in 13.3% (2/15) of benign lung tissues. The expression of VEGF-C was present in a subgroup of 70.4% (57/81) of tumor cases. In the human NSCLC samples, cytoplasmic but not nuclear HuR expression was significantly associated with increased levels of VEGF-C and with clinicopathological variables, including high tumor grade, poor differentiation and lymph node metastasis. In vitro, HuR showed a predominantly nuclear staining in Lewis lung cancer cells, as seen by confocal microscopy. When lung cancer cells were treated with siRNA targeted against HuR, expression levels of the HuR and VEGF-C proteins were significantly reduced, as seen by Western blotting. Our findings indicate that there is a dysregulation of the cellular distribution of the mRNA stability factor HuR in a subset of NSCLC. Examination of cytoplasmic HuR in NSCLC tissues will allow for valuable prognostic diagnosis of lymph node metastasis, as HuR might be an important mediator regulating the expression of VEGF-C.

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