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Oncogene. 2006 Nov 30;25(56):7401-10. Epub 2006 Jun 19.

Directional sensing of a phorbol ester gradient requires CD44 and is regulated by CD44 phosphorylation.

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Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre, The Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK.


Cancer progression is associated with enhanced directional cell migration, both of the tumour cells invading into the stroma and stromal cells infiltrating the tumour site. In cell-based assays to study directional cell migration, phorbol esters are frequently used as a chemotactic agent. However, the molecular mechanism by which these activators of protein kinase C (PKC) result in the establishment of a polarized migratory phenotype is not known. Here we show that CD44 expression is essential for chemotaxis towards a phorbol ester gradient. In an investigation of CD44 phosphorylation kinetics in resting and stimulated cells, Ser316 was identified as a novel site of phosphorylation following activation of PKC. PKC does not phosphorylate Ser316 directly, but rather mediates the activation of downstream Ser316 kinase(s). In transfection studies, a phosphorylation-deficient Ser316 mutant was shown to act in a dominant-negative fashion to impair chemotaxis mediated by endogenous CD44 in response to a phorbol ester gradient. Importantly, this mutation had no effect on random cell motility or the ability of cells to migrate directionally towards a cocktail of chemoattractants. These studies demonstrate that CD44 functions to provide directional cues to migrating cells without affecting the motility apparatus.

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