ROLE OF CELL ADHESION MICROENVIRONMENT AND THE SRC/STAT3 AXIS IN AUTOCRINE HGF SIGNALING DURING BREAST TUMOURIGENESIS
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Over-expression of both hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and its receptor Met frequently occurs in invasive human breast cancer, suggesting that the establishment of an HGF “autocrine loop” may be linked to breast tumour progression. We have recently shown a novel activating function of two signaling molecules, Src tyrosine kinase and the signal transducer and activator of transcription-3 factor (Stat3), on HGF expression in breast epithelial cells. Interestingly, Stat3 is also important in normal breast development,but this function does not require Src. In addition, β1-integrin adhesion occurs minimally in differentiated breast epithelium, but is upregulated during oncogenic progression and is required for transformation by Src. We therefore hypothesize that β1-integrin engagement is necessary for Src/Stat3-dependent activation of HGF transcription and breast tumourigensis. Using specific inhibitors of Src (Dasatinib) and Stat3 (CPA7) we demonstrated that autocrine HGF expression is linked to activation of Src/Stat3 in a malignant breast cell line. Phenotypic reversion (e.g., cell rounding and loss of filopodial extensions) and inhibition of pY705Stat3, HGF and pYMet expression as determined by immunofluorescence was achieved with both inhibitor treatments separately, and a synergistic effect was observed with combined treatment. Furthermore, β-catenin localization was nuclear in malignant cells, but shifted to cortical cytoplasmic following inhibitor treatment, similar to non-malignant mouse breast epithelial cells (EPH4). We are currently extrapolating these findings to a 3D Matrigel culture model in which EPH4 cells form acini-like spheroids with hollow lumen surrounded by a well-polarized outer layer of cells. Under these conditions, Stat3 levels are decreased followed by a reduction in cyclin D1 expression, while Src activation remains at a low baseline level. Interestingly,expression of Stat5, which has a reciprocal relationship with Stat3 in breast development and involution, is increased concomitant with elevated β-casein expression. Moreover, Fibronectin and HGF in combination stimulate tubular outgrowths with lumen filling. These findings suggest that aberrant changes in extracellular matrix milieu may stimulate integrin cross talk resulting in a switch of HGF/Met signaling to a transformation phenotype. Information from this study may lead to novel cancer therapies through targeting the HGF/Met and integrin signaling cascades.