At the early stage of cancer development, oncogenic mutations often cause multilayered epithelial structures. However, the underlying molecular mechanism still remains enigmatic. By performing a series of screenings targeting plasma membrane proteins, we have found that collagen XVII (COL17A1) and CD44 accumulate in RasV12-, Src-, or ErbB2-transformed epithelial cells. In addition, the expression of COL17A1 and CD44 is also regulated by cell density and upon apical cell extrusion. We further demonstrate that the expression of COL17A1 and CD44 is profoundly upregulated at the upper layers of multilayered, transformed epithelia in vitro and in vivo. The accumulated COL17A1 and CD44 suppress mitochondrial membrane potential and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. The diminished intracellular ROS level then promotes resistance against ferroptosis-mediated cell death upon cell extrusion, thereby positively regulating the formation of multilayered structures. To further understand the functional role of COL17A1, we performed comprehensive metabolome analysis and compared intracellular metabolites between RasV12 and COL17A1-knockout RasV12 cells. The data imply that COL17A1 regulates the metabolic pathway from the GABA shunt to mitochondrial complex I through succinate, thereby suppressing the ROS production. Moreover, we demonstrate that CD44 regulates membrane accumulation of COL17A1 in multilayered structures. These results suggest that CD44 and COL17A1 are crucial regulators for the clonal expansion of transformed cells within multilayered epithelia, thus being potential targets for early diagnosis and preventive treatment for precancerous lesions.
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