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Cancer. 2002 Oct 15;95(8):1802-15.

Dynamic alterations of the extracellular environment of ovarian surface epithelial cells in premalignant transformation, tumorigenicity, and metastasis.

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Department of Medical Oncology, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19111, USA.



Ovarian surface epithelial cells are positionally organized as a single cell layer by a sheet of basement membrane. It is believed that the contact of the ovarian surface epithelial cells with the basement membrane regulates cell growth and ensures the organization of the epithelium. Disabled-2 (Dab2), a signal transduction protein and a candidate tumor suppressor of ovarian carcinoma, functions in positional organization of ovarian surface epithelial cells. In ovarian carcinomas, genetic and epigenetic changes enable the tumor cells to escape positional control and proliferate in a disorganized fashion. Alterations in the extracellular environment may also be critical for tumor initiation and progression.


We analyzed and compared the presence of collagen IV and laminin, the scaffold proteins of the basement membrane, and Dab2 in 50 ovarian tumors that are restricted to the ovaries and in 50 metastases of ovarian tumors by immunohistochemistry. Expression of collagen IV, laminin, and Dab2 was also analyzed by Northern blotting in a panel of human ovarian surface epithelial and cancer cell lines.


The basement membrane is often absent in morphologically benign ovarian surface and cyst epithelium and low-grade tumors and collagen IV and laminin are absent in the extracellular matrix of most of the primary tumors tested. Of the 50 ovarian tumors confined to the ovaries, 6% (3 of 50) were collagen IV positive and 24% (12 of 50) were laminin positive tumors. Of the 50 metastatic tumors, 16% (8 of 50) are collagen IV positive and 86% (43 of 50) are laminin positive. In addition, even in the metastatic ovarian tumors that are largely collagen IV negative, there are pockets of local areas in which the tumor cells are surrounded by collagen IV-positive staining. Dab2 is absent in the majority of ovarian tumors found in both ovaries and metastatic sites. In both nontumorigenic human ovarian surface epithelial and cancer cell lines, collagen IV, laminin, and Dab2 are expressed aberrantly.


Loss of the basement membrane may be an early event in the preneoplastic transformation of ovarian surface epithelium and in the early stages of tumorigenesis before tumor invasion and metastasis. The majority of primary ovarian tumors examined lack collagen IV and laminin in their extracellular matrix. However, expression of laminin is restored in the majority of metastatic tumors. Reexpression of collagen IV may also contribute to tumor metastasis. The ability of tumor cells to dynamically alter the expression of collagen IV and laminin may facilitate the shedding of cancer cells into the peritoneal spaces and subsequent attachment to the metastatic sites. We propose that loss of collagen IV and laminin may be an initial event in ovarian tumorigenicity and that restoration of collagen IV and laminin expression in the later stages of tumor development may promote metastasis of ovarian tumors.

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