Abstract: Circular RNAs (circRNAs) belong to a novel class of noncoding RNA that gained more attention in human cancer pathogenesis. The role of circRNA in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is largely unclear. Present investigation was to characterize new circRNAs regulating ESCC progression and explore the regulatory mechanisms in ESCC. In this study, circRNAs differentially expressed in ESCC and adjacent normal tissues were characterized via high-throughput sequencing. Then the differentially expressed circRNA between ESCC and adjacent normal tissues were investigated using Rt-qPCR. The role of circ-ARAP2 expression on tumor progression were detected in both in vivo and in vitro. Luciferase reporter assays were used to identify the relationships among circ-ARAP2, microRNA (miR)-761 and the cell cycle regulator Forkhead Box M1 (FOXM1). The result of the expression profile analyses regarding human circRNAs in ESCC demonstrated that circ-ARAP2 was up-regulated significantly in both ESCC tissues and cell lines. Downregulation circ-ARAP2 suppressed ESCC proliferation, tumor growth and metastasis inboth in vivo and in vitro. The data also suggested that miR-761 and FOXM1 were circ-ARAP2 downstream targets which were confirmed through luciferase reporter analysis. Overexpression of FOXM1 or inhibiting miR-761 restored ESCC cell proliferation and invasion ability after silencing circ-ARAP2. The study also found that circ-ARAP2 influenced the endothelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and cancer stem cells differently by regulating miR-761/FOXM1. In one word, the results demonstrated that abnormal circ-ARAP2 expression promoted ESCC progression by regulating miR-761/FOXM1 axis-mediated stemness and EMT.

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