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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Mar 25;105(12):4850-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0709810105. Epub 2008 Mar 19.

Netrin-1 expression confers a selective advantage for tumor cell survival in metastatic breast cancer.

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  • 1Apoptosis, Cancer, and Development Laboratory-Equipe Labellisée "La Ligue," Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Unité Mixte de Recherche 5238, Centre Léon Bérard, Université de Lyon 69008 Lyon, France.


Netrin-1, an axon navigation cue was proposed to play a crucial role during colorectal tumorigenesis by regulating apoptosis. The netrin-1 receptors DCC and UNC5H were shown to belong to the family of dependence receptors that share the ability to induce apoptosis in the absence of their ligands. Such a trait confers on these receptors a tumor suppressor activity. Expression of one of these dependence receptors at the surface of a tumor cell is indeed speculated to render this cell dependent on ligand availability for its survival, hence inhibiting uncontrolled cell proliferation or metastasis. Consequently, it is a selective advantage for a tumor cell to lose this dependence receptor activity, as previously described with losses of DCC and UNC5H expression in human cancers. However, the model predicts that a similar advantage may be obtained by gaining autocrine expression of the ligand. We describe here that, unlike human nonmetastatic breast tumors, a large fraction of metastatic breast cancers overexpress netrin-1. Moreover, we show that netrin-1-expressing mammary metastatic tumor cell lines undergo apoptosis when netrin-1 expression is experimentally decreased or when decoy soluble receptor ectodomains are added. Such treatments prevent metastasis formation both in a syngenic mouse model of lung colonization of a mammary cancer cell line and in a model of spontaneous lung metastasis of xenografted human breast tumor. Thus, netrin-1 expression observed in a large fraction of human metastatic breast tumors confers a selective advantage for tumor cell survival and potentially represents a promising target for alternative anticancer therapeutic strategies.

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