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Metastasis-promoting Protein In Urine Identified; Could Provide A Prognostic Test Or Target For Breast Cancer

February 25, 2009
Children's Hospital Boston
A small protein detectable in urine can predict a breast cancer's aggressiveness, and possibly provide a new avenue for treating the disease. When its production is shut down, cell migration -- a key step in progression and metastasis -- is inhibited. The protein, which has been licensed for clinical development, also plays a key biological role in advancing cancer, triggering the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and reducing cells' response to the hormone estrogen.

Tumors that are about to progress and metastasize go through a process also seen in normal embryonic development, known as the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). Tumor cells revert to a less-differentiated state, stop adhering to each another and become more mobile and prone to invade and proliferate. Now, researchers at Children's Hospital Boston show, for the first time, that a small protein called lipocalin 2 triggers the EMT in human breast cancer – and that the same protein, when measured in tissues and urine, can predict a cancer's invasiveness.

Their findings were published online February 23 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers led by Marsha A. Moses, PhD, and Jiang Yang, PhD, of the Vascular Biology Program at Children's, induced human breast cancer cells to make large amounts of lipocalin 2, and showed that cell motility and invasiveness increased significantly. They then took cells from aggressive breast cancers and silenced lipocalin 2, and found that cell migration was significantly inhibited. When they transplanted human breast cancer cells into animals, those from tumors making lipocalin 2 were more locally invasive and more likely to metastasize to lymph nodes.

Further laboratory studies indicated that lipocalin 2 decreases the levels of estrogen receptor alpha, thereby reducing the cells' response to the hormone estrogen, which is associated with poor prognosis of breast cancer. Inhibiting the production of estrogen receptor alpha is also the mechanism that triggers the EMT pathway, the researchers show.

Finally, tissue samples, and even urine samples, from women with invasive breast cancer consistently showed elevated lipocalin 2 levels, suggesting that testing for lipocalin 2 may be a way of detecting cancer progression and the need for more aggressive treatment.

"Our study identifies a novel, additional player in the complex development of invasive breast cancer," says Moses, the Vascular Biology Program's interim director. "It suggests that this protein may represent a prognostic and/or therapeutic target for this devastating disease."

Lipocalin 2, along with other urine biomarkers of cancer identified in Moses's lab, has been licensed to Predictive Biosciences, Inc. (Lexington, Mass.) for clinical development.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the JoAnn Webb Fund for Angiogenesis Research, the Riehl Family Foundation, the S. Elizabeth O'Brien Trust and the Advanced Medical Foundation.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Children's Hospital Boston. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Jiang Yang, Diane R. Bielenberg, Scott J. Rodig, Robert Doiron, Matthew C. Clifton, Andrew L. Kung, Roland K. Strong, David Zurakowski, and Marsha A. Moses. Lipocalin 2 promotes breast cancer progression. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810617106

Cite This Page:

Children's Hospital Boston. "Metastasis-promoting Protein In Urine Identified; Could Provide A Prognostic Test Or Target For Breast Cancer." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090223221245.htm>.
Children's Hospital Boston. (2009, February 25). Metastasis-promoting Protein In Urine Identified; Could Provide A Prognostic Test Or Target For Breast Cancer. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090223221245.htm
Children's Hospital Boston. "Metastasis-promoting Protein In Urine Identified; Could Provide A Prognostic Test Or Target For Breast Cancer." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090223221245.htm (accessed April 23, 2014).

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