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Cancer Res. 2006 Oct 1;66(19):9527-34.

HOXB7, a homeodomain protein, is overexpressed in breast cancer and confers epithelial-mesenchymal transition.

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  • 1Breast Cancer Program, Department of Oncology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is increasingly recognized as a mechanism whereby cells in primary noninvasive tumors acquire properties essential for migration and invasion. Microarray analyses of microdissected epithelial cells from bone metastasis revealed a HOXB7 overexpression that was 3-fold higher than in primary breast carcinomas and 18-fold higher compared with normal breast. This led us to investigate the role of HOXB7 in neoplastic transformation of breast cells. Expression of HOXB7 in both MCF10A and Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) epithelial cells resulted in the acquisition of both phenotypic and molecular attributes typical of EMT. Loss of epithelial proteins, claudin 1 and claudin 7, mislocalization of claudin 4 and E-cadherin, and the expression of mesenchymal proteins, vimentin and alpha-smooth muscle actin, were observed. MDCK cells expressing HOXB7 exhibited properties of migration and invasion. Unlike MDCK vector-transfected cells, MDCK-HOXB7 cells formed highly vascularized tumors in mice. MDCK-HOXB7 cells overexpressed basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), had more active forms of both Ras and RhoA proteins, and displayed higher levels of phosphorylation of p44 and p42 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK; extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2). Effects initiated by HOXB7 were reversed by specific inhibitors of FGF receptor and the Ras-MAPK pathways. These data provide support for a function for HOXB7 in promoting tumor invasion through activation of Ras/Rho pathway by up-regulating bFGF, a known transcriptional target of HOXB7. Reversal of these effects by HOXB7-specific siRNA further suggested that these effects were mediated by HOXB7. Thus, HOXB7 overexpression caused EMT in epithelial cells, accompanied by acquisition of aggressive properties of tumorigenicity, migration, and invasion.

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