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Cancer Res. 2014 Feb 15;74(4):1250-60. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-13-1778. Epub 2013 Dec 26.

Curcumin targets breast cancer stem-like cells with microtentacles that persist in mammospheres and promote reattachment.

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Authors' Affiliations: Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum National Cancer Institute Cancer Center; Program in Molecular Medicine; and Department of Physiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.


Cancer stem-like cells (CSC) and circulating tumor cells (CTC) have related properties associated with distant metastasis, but the mechanisms through which CSCs promote metastasis are unclear. In this study, we report that breast cancer cell lines with more stem-like properties display higher levels of microtentacles (McTN), a type of tubulin-based protrusion of the plasma cell membrane that forms on detached or suspended cells and aid in cell reattachment. We hypothesized that CSCs with large numbers of McTNs would more efficiently attach to distant tissues, promoting metastatic efficiency. The naturally occurring stem-like subpopulation of the human mammary epithelial (HMLE) cell line presents increased McTNs compared with its isogenic non-stem-like subpopulation. This increase was supported by elevated α-tubulin detyrosination and vimentin protein levels and organization. Increased McTNs in stem-like HMLEs promoted a faster initial reattachment of suspended cells that was inhibited by the tubulin-directed drug, colchicine, confirming a functional role for McTNs in stem cell reattachment. Moreover, live-cell confocal microscopy showed that McTNs persist in breast stem cell mammospheres as flexible, motile protrusions on the surface of the mammosphere. Although exposed to the environment, they also function as extensions between adjacent cells along cell-cell junctions. We found that treatment with the breast CSC-targeting compound curcumin rapidly extinguished McTN in breast CSC, preventing reattachment from suspension. Together, our results support a model in which breast CSCs with cytoskeletal alterations that promote McTNs can mediate attachment and metastasis but might be targeted by curcumin as an antimetastatic strategy.

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