Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a quite common illness but its etiology and mechanism remain unclear. Neural epidermal growth factor-like like 2 (NELL2) plays multifunctional roles in neural cell growth and is strongly linked to the urinary tract disease. Current study aims to determine the expression, functional activities and underlying mechanism of NELL2 in BPH. Human prostate cell lines and tissues from normal human and BPH patients were utilized. Immunohistochemical staining, immunofluorescent staining, RT-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and Western blotting were performed. We further generated cell models with NELL2 silenced or overexpressed. Subsequently, proliferation, cycle, and apoptosis of prostate cells were determined by cell counting kit-8 (CCK-8) assay and flow cytometry analysis. The epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) and fibrosis process were also analyzed. Our study revealed that NELL2 was up-regulated in BPH samples and localized in the stroma and the epithelium compartments of human prostate tissues. NELL2 deficiency induced a mitochondria-dependent cell apoptosis, and inhibited cell proliferation via phosphorylating extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) activation. Additionally, suppression of ERK1/2 with U0126 incubation could significantly reverse NELL2 deficiency triggered cell apoptosis. Consistently, overexpression of NELL2 promoted cell proliferation and inhibited cell apoptosis. However, NELL2 interference was observed no effect on EMT and fibrosis process. Our novel data demonstrated that up-regulation of NELL2 in the enlarged prostate could contribute to the development of BPH through enhancing cell proliferation and inhibited a mitochondria-dependent cell apoptosis via the ERK pathway. The NELL2–ERK system might represent an important target to facilitate the development of future therapeutic approaches in BPH.

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