JOURNAL ARTICLE

Epithelial-mesenchymal transition in breast cancer relates to the basal-like phenotype

David Sarrió, Socorro María Rodriguez-Pinilla, David Hardisson, Amparo Cano, Gema Moreno-Bueno, José Palacios
Cancer Research 2008 February 15, 68 (4): 989-97
18281472
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is defined by the loss of epithelial characteristics and the acquisition of a mesenchymal phenotype. In carcinoma cells, EMT can be associated with increased aggressiveness, and invasive and metastatic potential. To assess the occurrence of EMT in human breast tumors, we conducted a tissue microarray-based immunohistochemical study in 479 invasive breast carcinomas and 12 carcinosarcomas using 28 different markers. Unsupervised hierarchical clustering of the tumors and statistical analysis showed that up-regulation of EMT markers (vimentin, smooth-muscle-actin, N-cadherin, and cadherin-11) and overexpression of proteins involved in extracellular matrix remodeling and invasion (SPARC, laminin, and fascin), together with reduction of characteristic epithelial markers (E-cadherin and cytokeratins), preferentially occur in breast tumors with the "basal-like phenotype." Moreover, most breast carcinosarcomas also had a basal-like phenotype and showed expression of mesenchymal markers in their sarcomatous and epithelial components. To assess whether basal-like cells have intrinsic phenotypic plasticity for mesenchymal transition, we performed in vitro studies with the MCF10A cell line. In response to low cell density, MCF10A cells suffer spontaneous morphologic and phenotypic EMT-like changes, including cytoskeleton reorganization, vimentin and Slug up-regulation, cadherin switching, and diffuse cytosolic relocalization of the catenins. Moreover, these phenotypic changes are associated with modifications in the global genetic differentiation program characteristic of the EMT process. In summary, our data indicate that in breast tumors, EMT likely occurs within a specific genetic context, the basal phenotype, and suggests that this proclivity to mesenchymal transition may be related to the high aggressiveness and the characteristic metastatic spread of these tumors.

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