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PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e30046. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030046. Epub 2012 Jan 13.

CXCR4/CXCL12 participate in extravasation of metastasizing breast cancer cells within the liver in a rat model.

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Department of General and Visceral Surgery, University Hospital Muenster, Muenster, Germany.



Organ-specific composition of extracellular matrix proteins (ECM) is a determinant of metastatic host organ involvement. The chemokine CXCL12 and its receptor CXCR4 play important roles in the colonization of human breast cancer cells to their metastatic target organs. In this study, we investigated the effects of chemokine stimulation on adhesion and migration of different human breast cancer cell lines in vivo and in vitro with particular focus on the liver as a major metastatic site in breast cancer.


Time lapse microscopy, in vitro adhesion and migration assays were performed under CXCL12 stimulation. Activation of small GTPases showed chemokine receptor signalling dependence from ECM components. The initial events of hepatic colonisation of MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-468 cells were investigated by intravital microscopy of the liver in a rat model and under shRNA inhibition of CXCR4.


In vitro, stimulation with CXCL12 induced increased chemotactic cell motility (p<0.05). This effect was dependent on adhesive substrates (type I collagen, fibronectin and laminin) and induced different responses in small GTPases, such as RhoA and Rac-1 activation, and changes in cell morphology. In addition, binding to various ECM components caused redistribution of chemokine receptors at tumour cell surfaces. In vivo, blocking CXCR4 decreased extravasation of highly metastatic MDA-MB-231 cells (p<0.05), but initial cell adhesion within the liver sinusoids was not affected. In contrast, the less metastatic MDA-MB-468 cells showed reduced cell adhesion but similar migration within the hepatic microcirculation.


Chemokine-induced extravasation of breast cancer cells along specific ECM components appears to be an important regulator but not a rate-limiting factor of their metastatic organ colonization.

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