Transfer RNA-derived fragments (tRFs) are a new class of small non-coding RNAs. Recent studies suggest that tRFs participate in some pathological processes. However, the biological functions and mechanisms of tRFs in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) are largely unknown.
Differentially expressed tRFs were identified by tRF and tiRNA sequencing using 9 pairs of pre- and post-operation plasma from patients with NSCLC. Quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) were used to determine the levels of tRF in tissues, plasma, and cells. Gain- and loss-of-function experiments were implemented to investigate the oncogenic effects of tRF on NSCLC cells in vitro and in vivo. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), luciferase reporter, RNA pulldown, mass spectrum, RNA immunoprecipitation (RIP), Western blot, co-immunoprecipitation (Co-IP) assays, and rescue experiments were performed to explore the regulatory mechanisms of tRF in NSCLC.
AS-tDR-007333 was an uncharacterized tRF and significantly up-regulated in NSCLC tissues, plasma, and cells. Clinically, AS-tDR-007333 overexpression could distinguish NSCLC patients from healthy controls and associated with poorer prognosis of NSCLC patients. Functionally, overexpression of AS-tDR-007333 enhanced proliferation and migration of NSCLC cells, whereas knockdown of AS-tDR-007333 resulted in opposite effects. Mechanistically, AS-tDR-007333 promoted the malignancy of NSCLC cells by activating MED29 through two distinct mechanisms. First, AS-tDR-007333 bound to and interacted with HSPB1, which activated MED29 expression by enhancing H3K4me1 and H3K27ac in MED29 promoter. Second, AS-tDR-007333 stimulated the expression of transcription factor ELK4, which bound to MED29 promoter and increased its transcription. Therapeutically, inhibition of AS-tDR-007333 suppressed NSCLC cell growth in vivo.
Our study identifies a new oncogenic tRF and uncovers a novel mechanism that AS-tDR-007333 promotes NSCLC malignancy through the HSPB1-MED29 and ELK4-MED29 axes. AS-tDR-007333 is a potential diagnostic or prognostic marker and therapeutic target for NSCLC.

© 2022. The Author(s).