Background: Bladder cancer is one of the most common type of cancers globally, and the majority of cases belong to urothelial bladder carcinoma (UBC) type. Current researches have demonstrated that multiple genomic abnormalities are related to the sensitivity of cisplatin-based chemotherapy in bladder cancer patients. Previous findings have indicated a controversial role of Ubiquitin Carboxy-Terminal Hydrolase L1 (UCHL1) in malignancy, so we aimed to further explore the role of UCHL1 in UBC.

Methods: UBC cell lines and The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) in-silico datasets were utilized to investigate UCHL1 expression pattern and functional as well as prognostic impacts in UBC cancer cell line models and patients. UCHL1 overexpression and silencing vectors and subsequent immunoprecipitation/ubiquitination experiments in combination of cellular functional assays were conducted to explore UCHL1-PKM2 interaction axis and its significance in UBC malignancy.

Results: UCHL1 was significantly up-regulated in UBC cancer cells and UCHL1 high-expression was associated with higher pathology/clinical grade and significantly inferior overall prognosis of UBC patients. UCHL1 interacted with PKM2 and enhanced PKM2 protein level through inhibition of PKM2 protein degradation via ubiquitination process. UCHL1-PKM2 interaction significantly promoted UBC cellular proliferation, metastasis and invasion activities.

Conclusion: UCHL1-PKM2 interaction played an interesting role in UBC tumor cell proliferation, migration and metastasis. Our study suggests PKM2-targeted treatment might have a potential value in metastatic malignancy therapy development in the future.