Open Access Research article

CD44 enhances invasion of basal-like breast cancer cells by upregulating serine protease and collagen-degrading enzymatic expression and activity

Nicola Montgomery1, Ashleigh Hill1, Suzanne McFarlane1, Jessica Neisen1, Anthony O'Grady2, Susie Conlon2, Karin Jirstrom3, Elaine W Kay2 and David JJ Waugh1*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, Queens University Belfast, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast, BT9 7BL, Northern Ireland

2 Department of Histopathology, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Beaumont Hospital, Beaumont Road, Dublin 9, Ireland

3 Division of Pathology, Department of Laboratory Medicine, Lund University, Malmo University Hospital, S-205 02 Malmo, Sweden

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Breast Cancer Research 2012, 14:R84  doi:10.1186/bcr3199

Published: 23 May 2012

Abstract

Introduction

Basal-like breast cancers (BL-BCa) have the worst prognosis of all subgroups of this disease. Hyaluronan (HA) and the HA receptor CD44 have a long-standing association with cell invasion and metastasis of breast cancer. The purpose of this study was to establish the relation of CD44 to BL-BCa and to characterize how HA/CD44 signaling promotes a protease-dependent invasion of breast cancer (BrCa) cells.

Methods

CD44 expression was determined with immunohistochemistry (IHC) analysis of a breast cancer tissue microarray (TMA). In vitro experiments were performed on a panel of invasive BL-BCa cell lines, by using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR), immunoblotting, protease activity assays, and invasion assays to characterize the basis of HA-induced, CD44-mediated invasion.

Results

Expression of the hyaluronan (HA) receptor CD44 associated with the basal-like subgroup in a cohort of 141 breast tumor specimens (P = 0.018). Highly invasive cells of the representative BL-BCa cell line, MDA-MB-231 (MDA-MB-231Hi) exhibited increased invasion through a basement membrane matrix (Matrigel) and collagen. In further experiments, HA-induced promotion of CD44 signaling potentiated expression of urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA) and its receptor uPAR, and underpinned an increased cell-associated activity of this serine protease in MDA-MB-231Hi and a further BL-BCa cell line, Hs578T cells. Knockdown of CD44 attenuated both basal and HA-stimulated uPA and uPAR gene expression and uPA activity. Inhibition of uPA activity by using (a) a gene-targeted RNAi or (b) a small-molecule inhibitor of uPA attenuated HA-induced invasion of MDA-MB-231Hi cells through Matrigel. HA/CD44 signaling also was shown to increase invasion of MDA-MB-231 cells through collagen and to potentiate the collagen-degrading activity of MDA-MB-231Hi cells. CD44 signaling was subsequently shown to upregulate expression of two potent collagen-degrading enzymes, the cysteine protease cathepsin K and the matrix metalloprotease MT1-MMP. RNAi- or shRNA-mediated depletion of CD44 in MDA-MB-231Hi cells decreased basal and HA-induced cathepsin K and MT1-MMP expression, reduced the collagen-degrading activity of the cell, and attenuated cell invasion through collagen. Pharmacologic inhibition of cathepsin K or RNAi-mediated depletion of MT1-MMP also attenuated MDA-MB-231Hi cell invasion through collagen.

Conclusion

HA-induced CD44 signaling increases a diverse spectrum of protease activity to facilitate the invasion associated with BL-BCa cells, providing new insights into the molecular basis of CD44-promoted invasion.