Research Papers:

Breast cancer cells obtain an osteomimetic feature via epithelial-mesenchymal transition that have undergone BMP2/RUNX2 signaling pathway induction

Cong-Cong Tan, Gui-Xi Li, Li-Duan Tan, Xin Du, Xiao-Qing Li, Rui He, Qing-Shan Wang and Yu-Mei Feng _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:79688-79705. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.12939

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Cong-Cong Tan1,*, Gui-Xi Li1,*, Li-Duan Tan1, Xin Du1, Xiao-Qing Li1,2, Rui He1, Qing-Shan Wang1,2, Yu-Mei Feng1,2

1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital, National Clinical Research Center of Cancer, Tianjin 300060, China

2Key Laboratory of Breast Cancer Prevention and Treatment of the Ministry of Education, Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital, National Clinical Research Center of Cancer, Tianjin 300060, China

*These authors have contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to:

Yu-Mei Feng, email: [email protected]

Keywords: osteomimicry, epithelial-mesenchymal transition, BMP2/RUNX2 signaling pathway, breast cancer bone metastasis, cancer-associated fibroblast

Received: March 24, 2016    Accepted: September 25, 2016    Published: October 27, 2016


Bone is one of the most common organs of breast cancer metastasis. Cancer cells that mimic osteoblasts by expressing bone matrix proteins and factors have a higher likelihood of metastasizing to bone. However, the molecular mechanisms of osteomimicry formation of cancer cells remain undefined. Herein, we identified a set of bone-related genes (BRGs) that are ectopically co-expressed in primary breast cancer tissues and determined that osteomimetic feature is obtained due to the osteoblast-like transformation of epithelial breast cancer cells that have undergone epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) followed by bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP2) stimulation. Furthermore, we demonstrated that breast cancer cells that transformed into osteoblast-like cells with high expression of BRGs showed enhanced chemotaxis, adhesion, proliferation and multidrug resistance in an osteoblast-mimic bone microenvironment in vitro. During these processes, runt-related transcription factor 2 (RUNX2) functioned as a master mediator by suppressing or activating the transcription of BRGs that underlie the dynamic antagonism between the TGF-β/SMAD and BMP/SMAD signaling pathways in breast cancer cells. Our findings suggest a novel mechanism of osteomimicry formation that arises in primary breast tumors, which may explain the propensity of breast cancer to metastasize to the skeleton and contribute to potential strategies for predicting and targeting breast cancer bone metastasis and multidrug resistance.

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