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Mol Cancer Res. 2013 May;11(5):530-40. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-12-0385. Epub 2013 Feb 11.

The invasion inhibitor sarasinoside A1 reverses mesenchymal tumor transformation in an E-cadherin-independent manner.

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Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, Life Sciences Institute, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


During metastatic progression, an aberrant epithelial-to-mesenchymal transformation (EMT) that is most often driven by the loss of the cell-cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin generates noncohesive tumor cells that are highly invasive. We used mesenchymally transformed, E-cadherin-negative MDA-MB-231 breast carcinoma cells in a natural product screen and determined that the triterpenoid saponin sarasinoside A1 inhibited their invasion and the invasion of a number of other tumor cell lines. Sarasinoside A1 also caused MDA-MB-231 cells to become cohesive in a three-dimensional basement membrane and collagen gel cultures. In two-dimensional culture, sarasinoside A1 initiated a morphologic re-epithelialization of MDA-MB-231 cells wherein preexisting nonepithelial cadherins and the junction-associated proteins β-catenin and ZO-1 all relocalized to sites of cell-cell contact. In addition, the intercellular space between neighboring cells narrowed considerably, the stability of polymerized actin at cell-cell contact sites increased, and there was a recruitment and stabilization of nectin-based adhesion complexes to these sites, all of which strongly suggested that functional cell-cell junctions had formed. Importantly, sarasinoside A1 induced nascent cell-cell junction formation that did not require changes in gene expression and was not associated with an induction of E-cadherin but resulted in increased activation of Rap GTPases. Therefore, our findings with sarasinoside A1 suggest that it may be possible to re-epithelialize metastatic tumor cells with phenotypic consequence even when E-cadherin is completely absent.

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