Osteopontin (OPN) is a secreted phosphoprotein often overexpressed at high levels in the blood and primary tumors of breast cancer patients. OPN contains two integrin-binding sites and a thrombin cleavage domain located in close proximity to each other.
To study the role of the thrombin cleavage site of OPN, MDA-MB-468 human breast cancer cells were stably transfected with either wildtype OPN (468-OPN), mutant OPN lacking the thrombin cleavage domain (468-ΔTC) or an empty vector (468-CON) and assessed for in vitro and in vivo functional differences in malignant/metastatic behavior.
All three cell lines were found to equivalently express thrombin, tissue factor, CD44, αvβ5 integrin and β1 integrin. Relative to 468-OPN and 468-CON cells, 468-ΔTC cells expressing OPN with a deleted thrombin cleavage domain demonstrated decreased cell adhesion (p < 0.001), decreased mRNA expression of MCAM, maspin and TRAIL (p < 0.01), and increased uPA expression and activity (p < 0.01) in vitro. Furthermore, injection of 468-ΔTC cells into the mammary fat pad of nude mice resulted in decreased primary tumor latency time (p < 0.01) and increased primary tumor growth and lymph node metastatic burden (p < 0.001) compared to 468-OPN and 468-CON cells.
The results presented here suggest that expression of thrombin-uncleavable OPN imparts an early tumor formation advantage as well as a metastatic advantage for breast cancer cells, possibly due to increased proteolytic activity and decreased adhesion and apoptosis. Clarification of the mechanisms responsible for these observations and the translation of this knowledge into the clinic could ultimately provide new therapeutic opportunities for combating breast cancer.