Priority Research Papers:

Inhibitors of Rho kinase (ROCK) signaling revert the malignant phenotype of breast cancer cells in 3D context

Masahiro Matsubara and Mina J. Bissell _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:31602-31622. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.9395

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Masahiro Matsubara1,2 and Mina J. Bissell1

1 Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA

2 Present address: Oncology Research Laboratories, Kyowa Hakko Kirin Co., Ltd., Japan

Correspondence to:

Mina J. Bissell, email:

Masahiro Matsubara, email:

Keywords: ROCK; polarity; invasiveness; three-dimensional culture; breast cancer

Received: March 07, 2016 Accepted: April 27, 2016 Published: May 17, 2016


Loss of polarity and quiescence along with increased cellular invasiveness are associated with breast tumor progression. ROCK plays a central role in actin-cytoskeletal rearrangement. We used physiologically relevant 3D cultures of nonmalignant and cancer cells in gels made of laminin-rich extracellular matrix, to investigate ROCK function. Whereas expression levels of ROCK1 and ROCK2 were elevated in cancer cells compared to nonmalignant cells, this was not observed in 2D cultures. Malignant cells showed increased phosphorylation of MLC, corresponding to disorganized F-actin. Inhibition of ROCK signaling restored polarity, decreased disorganization of F-actin, and led to reduction of proliferation. Inhibition of ROCK also decreased EGFR and Integrinβ1 levels, and consequently suppressed activation of Akt, MAPK and FAK as well as GLUT3 and LDHA levels. Again, ROCK inhibition did not inhibit these molecules in 2D. A triple negative breast cancer cell line, which lacks E-cadherin, had high levels of ROCK but was less sensitive to ROCK inhibitors. Exogenous overexpression of E-cadherin, however, rendered these cells strikingly sensitive to ROCK inhibition. Our results add to the growing literature that demonstrate the importance of context and tissue architecture in determining not only regulation of normal and malignant phenotypes but also drug response.

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