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Mammary tumours frequently develop in female domestic cats being highly malignant in a large percentage of cases. Chemokines regulate many physiological and pathological processes including organogenesis, chemotaxis of inflammatory cells, as well as tumour progression and metastasization. In particular, the chemokine/receptor pair SDF-1/CXCR4 has been involved in the regulation of metastatic potential of neoplastic cells, including breast cancer. The aim of this study was the immunohistochemical defininition of the expression profile of CXCR4 in primary and metastatic feline mammary carcinomas and the evaluation of the role of SDF-1 in feline mammary tumour cell proliferation.
A total of 45 mammary surgical samples, including 33 primary tumours (31 carcinomas and 2 adenomas), 6 metastases, and 4 normal mammary tissues were anlyzed. Tumor samples were collected from a total number of 26 animals, as in some cases concurrent occurrence of neoplasm in more than one mammary gland was observed. Tissues were processed for standard histological examination, and all lesions were classified according to the World Health Organization criteria. CXCR4 expression in neoplastic cells was evaluated by immunohistochemistry. The level of CXCR4 immunoreactivity was semi-quantitatively estimated as CXCR4 score evaluating both the number of positive cells and the intensity of staining. Six primary, fibroblast-free primary cultures were obtained from fresh feline mammary carcinomas and characterized by immunofluorescence for CXCR4 and malignant mammary cell marker expression. SDF-1-dependent in vitro proliferative effects were also assayed. CXCR4 expression was observed in 29 out of 31 malignant tissues with a higher CXCR4 score observed in 4 out of 6 metastatic lesions than in the respective primary tumours. In 2 benign lesions analyzed, only the single basaloid adenoma showed a mild positive immunostaining against CXCR4. Normal tissue did not show CXCR4 immunoreactivity. CXCR4 score was statistically significantly associated with the histological features of the samples, showing an increase accordingly with the degree of neoplastic transformation (from normal tissue to metastatic lesions). Finally, in the primary cultures obtained from 6 primary feline mammary carcinomas CXCR4 expression was detected in all cells and its activation by SDF-1 in vitro treatment caused a significant increase in the proliferation rate in 5 out of 6 tumours.
These results indicate that malignant feline mammary tumours commonly express CXCR4, with a higher level in malignant tumours, and, in most of the cases analysed, metastatic cells display stronger immunoreactivity for CXCR4 than the corresponding primary tumours. Moreover, CXCR4 activation in primary cultures of feline mammary carcinomas causes increase in the proliferative rate. Thus, SDF-1/CXCR4 system seems to play a tumorigenic in feline mammary gland malignancy and in vitro cultures from these tumour samples may represent an experimental model to investigate the biological and pharmacological role of this chemokinergic axis.