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Oncogene. 2010 Jun 3;29(22):3217-27. doi: 10.1038/onc.2010.68. Epub 2010 Mar 15.

Metastatic breast tumors express increased tau, which promotes microtentacle formation and the reattachment of detached breast tumor cells.

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Program in Molecular Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.


The cytoskeletal organization of detached and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) is currently not well defined and may provide potential targets for new therapies to limit metastatic tumor spread. In vivo, CTCs reattach in distant tissues by a mechanism that is tubulin-dependent and suppressed by polymerized actin. The cytoskeletal mechanisms that promote reattachment of CTCs match exactly with the mechanisms supporting tubulin microtentacles (McTN), which we have recently identified in detached breast tumor cells. In this study, we aimed to investigate how McTN formation is affected by the microtubule-associated protein, tau, which is expressed in a subset of chemotherapy-resistant breast cancers. We demonstrate that endogenous tau protein localizes to McTNs and is both necessary and sufficient to promote McTN extension in detached breast tumor cells. Tau-induced McTNs increase reattachment of suspended cells and retention of CTCs in lung capillaries. Analysis of patient-matched primary and metastatic tumors reveals that 52% possess tau expression in metastases and 26% display significantly increased tau expression over disease progression. Tau enrichment in metastatic tumors and the ability of tau to promote tumor cell reattachment through McTN formation support a model in which tau-induced microtubule stabilization provides a selective advantage during tumor metastasis.

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