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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Feb 17;106(7):2253-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0812846106. Epub 2009 Jan 21.

Alternatively spliced Spalax heparanase inhibits extracellular matrix degradation, tumor growth, and metastasis.

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Department of Oncology, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem 91031, Israel.


Heparanase is an endoglycosidase that degrades heparan sulfate (HS) at the cell surface and in the extracellular matrix. Heparanase is expressed mainly by cancer cells, and its expression is correlated with increased tumor aggressiveness, metastasis, and angiogenesis. Here, we report the cloning of a unique splice variant (splice 36) of heparanase from the subterranean blind mole rat (Spalax). This splice variant results from skipping part of exon 3, exons 4 and 5, and part of exon 6 and functions as a dominant negative to the wild-type enzyme. It inhibits HS degradation, suppresses glioma tumor growth, and decreases experimental B16-BL6 lung colonization in a mouse model. Intriguingly, Spalax splice variant 7 of heparanase (which results from skipping of exon 7) is devoid of enzymatic activity, but unlike splice 36 it enhances tumor growth. Our results demonstrate that alternative splicing of heparanase regulates its enzymatic activity and might adapt the heparanase function to the fluctuating normoxic-hypoxic subterranean environment that Spalax experiences. Development of anticancer drugs designed to suppress tumor growth, angiogenesis, and metastasis is a major challenge, of which heparanase inhibition is a promising approach. We anticipate that the heparanase splicing model, evolved during 40 million years of Spalacid adaptation to underground life, would pave the way for the development of heparanase-based therapeutic modalities directed against angiogenesis, tumor growth, and metastasis.

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