Background and aims: In stomach, metaplasia can arise from differentiated chief cells that become mitotic via paligenosis, a stepwise program. In paligenosis, mitosis initiation requires reactivation of the cellular energy hub mTORC1 after initial mTORC1 suppression by DNA damage induced transcript 4 (DDIT4 aka REDD1). Here, we use DDIT4-deficient mice and human cells to study how metaplasia increases tumorigenesis risk. Methods: A tissue microarray of human gastric tissue specimens was analyzed by immunohistochemistry for DDIT4. C57BL/6 mice were administered combinations of intraperitoneal injections of high-dose tamoxifen (TAM) to induce spasmolytic polypeptide-expressing metaplasia (SPEM) and rapamycin to block mTORC1 activity, and N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (MNU) in drinking water to induce spontaneous gastric tumors. Stomachs were analyzed for proliferation, DNA damage, and tumor formation. CRISPR/Cas9-generated DDIT4 -/- and control human gastric cells were analyzed for growth in vitro and in xenografts with and without 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) treatment. Results: DDIT4 was expressed in normal gastric chief cells in mice and humans and decreased as chief cells became metaplastic. Paligenotic Ddit4 -/- chief cells maintained constitutively high mTORC1, causing increased mitosis of metaplastic cells despite DNA damage. Lower DDIT4 expression correlated with longer survival of patients with gastric cancer. 5-FU-treated DDIT4 -/- human gastric epithelial cells had significantly increased cells entering mitosis despite DNA damage and increased proliferation in vitro and in xenografts. MNU-treated Ddit4 -/- mice had increased spontaneous tumorigenesis after multiple rounds of paligenosis induced by TAM. Conclusions: During injury-induced metaplastic proliferation, failure of licensing mTORC1 reactivation correlates with increased proliferation of cells harboring DNA damage, as well as increased tumor formation and growth in mice and humans.
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