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Breast Cancer Res. 2004;6(6):R616-28. Epub 2004 Sep 13.

The Na+-H+ exchanger-1 induces cytoskeletal changes involving reciprocal RhoA and Rac1 signaling, resulting in motility and invasion in MDA-MB-435 cells.

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  • 1Laboratory of Clinical & Experimental Oncology, Oncology Institute of Bari, Bari, Italy.



An increasing body of evidence shows that the tumour microenvironment is essential in driving neoplastic progression. The low serum component of this microenvironment stimulates motility/invasion in human breast cancer cells via activation of the Na+-H+ exchanger (NHE) isoform 1, but the signal transduction systems that underlie this process are still poorly understood. We undertook the present study to elucidate the role and pattern of regulation by the Rho GTPases of this serum deprivation-dependent activation of both NHE1 and subsequent invasive characteristics, such as pseudopodia and invadiopodia protrusion, directed cell motility and penetration of normal tissues.


The present study was performed in a well characterized human mammary epithelial cell line representing late stage metastatic progression, MDA-MB-435. The activity of RhoA and Rac1 was modified using their dominant negative and constitutively active mutants and the activity of NHE1, cell motility/invasion, F-actin content and cell shape were measured.


We show for the first time that serum deprivation induces NHE1-dependent morphological and cytoskeletal changes in metastatic cells via a reciprocal interaction of RhoA and Rac1, resulting in increased chemotaxis and invasion. Deprivation changed cell shape by reducing the amount of F-actin and inducing the formation of leading edge pseudopodia. Serum deprivation inhibited RhoA activity and stimulated Rac1 activity. Rac1 and RhoA were antagonistic regulators of both basal and stimulated tumour cell NHE1 activity. The regulation of NHE1 activity by RhoA and Rac1 in both conditions was mediated by an alteration in intracellular proton affinity of the exchanger. Interestingly, the role of each of these G-proteins was reversed during serum deprivation; basal NHE1 activity was regulated positively by RhoA and negatively by Rac1, whereas RhoA negatively and Rac1 positively directed the stimulation of NHE1 during serum deprivation. Importantly, the same pattern of RhoA and Rac1 regulation found for NHE1 activity was observed in both basal and serum deprivation dependent increases in motility, invasion and actin cytoskeletal organization.


Our findings suggest that the reported antagonistic roles of RhoA and Rac1 in cell motility/invasion and cytoskeletal organization may be due, in part, to their concerted action on NHE1 activity as a convergence point.

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