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Cancer Res. 2004 Aug 15;64(16):5818-24.

EpCAM is overexpressed in breast cancer and is a potential target for breast cancer gene therapy.

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Department of Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina 29425, USA.


EpCAM (epithelial cell adhesion molecule) is a cell surface molecule that is known to be highly expressed in colon and other epithelial carcinomas. EpCAM is involved in cell-to-cell adhesion and has been the target of antibody therapy in several clinical trials. To assess the value of EpCAM as a novel target for breast cancer gene therapy, we performed real-time reverse transcription-PCR to quantify the level of EpCAM mRNA expression in normal breast tissue and primary and metastatic breast cancers. We found that EpCAM is overexpressed 100- to 1000-fold in primary and metastatic breast cancer. Silencing EpCAM gene expression with EpCAM short interfering RNA (siRNA) resulted in a 35-80% decrease in the rate of cell proliferation in four different breast cancer cell lines. EpCAM siRNA treatment decreased cell migration by 91.8% and cell invasion by 96.4% in the breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231 in vitro. EpCAM siRNA treatment was also associated with an increase in the detergent-insoluble protein fraction of E-cadherin, alpha-catenin, and beta-catenin, consistent with the known biology of EpCAM as a regulator of cell adhesion. Our hypothesis is that modulation of EpCAM expression can affect cell migration, invasion, and proliferation by enhancing E-cadherin-mediated cell-to-cell adhesion. These data provide compelling evidence that EpCAM is a potential novel target for breast cancer gene therapy and offer insights into the mechanisms associated with EpCAM gene silencing.

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