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1.  Breast Cancer Metastasis Suppressor-1 promoter methylation in primary breast tumors and corresponding Circulating Tumor Cells 
Molecular cancer research : MCR  2013;11(10):10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-13-0096.
Breast Cancer Metastasis Suppressor-1 differentially regulates expression of multiple genes, leading to metastasis suppression without affecting orthotopic tumor growth. We evaluated BRMS1 promoter methylation as prognostic biomarker in primary breast tumors and studied BRMS1 promoter methylation in a subset of corresponding Circulating Tumor Cells (CTC) for the first time. We analyzed 118 formalin-fixed paraffin embedded samples: 5 pairs of breast tumors and adjacent non-cancerous tissues, 14 non-cancerous tissues, 10 benign fibroadenomas, and 84 primary breast tumors. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 39/84 of these patients were fixed in cytospins. BRMS1 methylation status was investigated in all FFPE and cytospin stained CTC using methylation specific PCR. BRMS1 expression in cytospins was examined by double-immunofluorescence using anti-BRMS1 and pancytokeratin A45-B/B3 antibodies. BRMS1 promoter methylation was not observed in noncancerous breast tissues (0%), and benign fibroadenomas (0%), while it was observed in 36.9% of primary breast tumors. BRMS1 promoter methylation in primary tumors was associated with reduced disease-free interval (P=0.009) while a trend towards a reduced overall survival was also observed (P=0.071). 13/39 cytospin samples (33.3%) were positive for the presence of CTC and the total number of the detected CTC was 41. Most CTC (80.5%) were negative for BRMS1 or maintained low expression, implying that BRMS1 is down regulated in these cells. BRMS1 promoter methylation was observed in 5/39 (12.8%) samples. BRMS1 promoter methylation in primary breast tumors provides prognostic information for DFS. BRMS1 expression in CTC was highly heterogeneous, between patients and even in the same patient.
PMCID: PMC3868947  PMID: 23744981
Breast Cancer Metastasis Suppressor gene-1; BRMS1; circulating tumor cells; CTC; DNA methylation; operable breast cancer
2.  Microenvironmental Influences on Metastasis Suppressor Expression and Function during a Metastatic Cell’s Journey 
Cancer Microenvironment  2014;7(3):117-131.
Metastasis is the process of primary tumor cells breaking away and colonizing distant secondary sites. In order for a tumor cell growing in one microenvironment to travel to, and flourish in, a secondary environment, it must survive a series of events termed the metastatic cascade. Before departing the primary tumor, cells acquire genetic and epigenetic changes that endow them with properties not usually associated with related normal differentiated cells. Those cells also induce a subset of bone marrow-derived stem cells to mobilize and establish pre-metastatic niches [1]. Many tumor cells undergo epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), where they transiently acquire morphologic changes, reduced requirements for cell-cell contact and become more invasive [2]. Invasive tumor cells eventually enter the circulatory (hematogenous) or lymphatic systems or travel across body cavities. In transit, tumor cells must resist anoikis, survive sheer forces and evade detection by the immune system. For blood-borne metastases, surviving cells then arrest or adhere to endothelial linings before either proliferating or extravasating. Eventually, tumor cells complete the process by proliferating to form a macroscopic mass [3].
Up to 90 % of all cancer related morbidity and mortality can be attributed to metastasis. Surgery manages to ablate most primary tumors, especially when combined with chemotherapy and radiation. But if cells have disseminated, survival rates drop precipitously. While multiple parameters of the primary tumor are predictive of local or distant relapse, biopsies remain an imperfect science. The introduction of molecular and other biomarkers [4, 5] continue to improve the accuracy of prognosis. However, the invasive procedure introduces new complications for the patient. Likewise, the heterogeneity of any tumor population [3, 6, 7] means that sampling error (i.e., since it is impractical to examine the entire tumor) necessitates further improvements.
In the case of breast cancer, for example, women diagnosed with stage I diseases (i.e., no evidence of invasion through a basement membrane) still have a ~30 % likelihood of developing distant metastases [8]. Many physicians and patients opt for additional chemotherapy in order to “mop up“ cells that have disseminated and have the potential to grow into macroscopic metastases. This means that ~ 70 % of patients receive unnecessary therapy, which has undesirable side effects. Therefore, improving prognostic capability is highly desirable.
Recent advances allow profiling of primary tumor DNA sequences and gene expression patterns to define a so-called metastatic signature [9–11], which can be predictive of patient outcome. However, the genetic changes that a tumor cell must undergo to survive the initial events of the metastatic cascade and colonize a second location belie a plasticity that may not be adequately captured in a sampling of heterogeneous tumors. In order to tailor or personalize patient treatments, a more accurate assessment of the genetic profile in the metastases is needed. Biopsy of each individual metastasis is not practical, safe, nor particularly cost-effective. In recent years, there has been a resurrection of the notion to do a ‘liquid biopsy,’ which essentially involves sampling of circulating tumor cells (CTC) and/or cell free nucleic acids (cfDNA, including microRNA (miRNA)) present in blood and lymph [12–16].
The rationale for liquid biopsy is that tumors shed cells and/or genetic fragments into the circulation, theoretically making the blood representative of not only the primary tumor but also distant metastases. Logically, one would predict that the proportion of CTC and/or cfDNA would be proportionate to the likelihood of developing metastases [14]. While a linear relationship does not exist, the information within CTC or cfDNA is beginning to show great promise for enabling a global snapshot of the disease. However, the CTC and cfDNA are present at extremely low levels. Nonetheless, newer technologies capture enough material to enrich and sequence the patient’s DNA or quantification of some biomarkers.
Among the biomarkers showing great promise are metastasis suppressors which, by definition, block a tumor cell’s ability to complete the metastatic process without prohibiting primary tumor growth [17]. Since the discovery of the first metastasis suppressor, Nm23, more than 30 have been functionally characterized. They function at various stages of the metastatic cascade, but their mechanisms of action, for the most part, remain ill-defined. Deciphering the molecular interactions of functional metastasis suppressors may provide insights for targeted therapies when these regulators cease to function and result in metastatic disease.
In this brief review, we summarize what is known about the various metastasis suppressors and their functions at individual steps of the metastatic cascade (Table 1). Some of the subdivisions are rather arbitrary in nature, since many metastasis suppressors affect more than one step in the metastatic cascade. Nonetheless what emerges is a realization that metastasis suppressors are intimately associated with the microenvironments in which cancer cells find themselves [18].
PMCID: PMC4275500  PMID: 24938990
BRMS1; CD44; CRMP4; DCC; DLC1; GSN; LIFR; LSD1; MTBP; OGR1; RKIP; SSeCKS; Stefin A; RhoGDI2; RRM1; Caspase 8; Gas1. KAI1; Regulatory RNA; miRNA; KISS1; NDRG1; NME1; MKK4; MKK7; p38; CADM1; TSLC1; FXR; Invasion; Motility; Metastasis suppressor; Colonization; Cell-free DNA; Circulating tumor cell; CTC; DTC; cfDNA
3.  Advances in circulating tumor cells (ACTC): from basic research to clinical practice 
The first 'Advances in Circulating Tumor Cells (ACTC): from Basic Research to Clinical Practice' meeting was held in Athens, Greece, September 26–29, 2012 (abstracts, presentations and a more detailed meeting report are freely available online: We summarize in this report most major findings presented and the main conclusions derived during the expert panel sessions.
PMCID: PMC3978849  PMID: 24314311
4.  Comparison of three molecular assays for the detection and molecular characterization of circulating tumor cells in breast cancer 
Comparison studies between different analytical methodologies for circulating tumor cells (CTC) detection and molecular characterization are urgently needed, since standardization of assays is essential before their use in clinical practice.
We compared three different CTC molecular assays. To avoid discrepancies due to pre-analytical errors we used the same cDNAs throughout our study. CTC were isolated using anti-EpCAM and anti-MUC1 coated magnetic beads from 2 × 5 ml of peripheral blood of 254 early and 51 metastatic breast cancer patients and 30 healthy individuals. The same cDNAs were analyzed by: a) singleplex RT-qPCR assay for CK-19; b) multiplex RT-qPCR for CK-19, HER-2, MAGE- A3, and PBGD; and c) a commercially available molecular assay (AdnaTest BreastCancer) for GA733-2, MUC-1, HER-2 and beta-actin.
In early breast cancer, CK-19 RT-qPCR, multiplex RT-qPCR and the AdnaTest, were positive for the presence of CTC in 14.2%, 22.8% and 16.5% subjects, respectively. The concordance between the AdnaTest and CK-19 RT-qPCR was 72.4% while between the AdnaTest and multiplex RT-qPCR was 64.6%. In patients with overt metastasis, CK-19 RT-qPCR, multiplex RT-qPCR and the AdnaTest were positive in 41.2%, 39.2% and 54.9% patients, respectively. The concordance between the AdnaTest and CK-19 RT-qPCR was 70.6% while between the AdnaTest and multiplex RT-qPCR was 68.6%.
All CTC assays gave similar results in about 70% of cases. Better agreement was found in the metastatic setting, possibly explained by the higher tumor load in this group. Discordances could be attributed to the different gene transcripts used to evaluate CTC positivity. Our results indicate the importance of CTC heterogeneity for their detection by different analytical methodologies.
PMCID: PMC3672668  PMID: 23497487
5.  A closed-tube methylation-sensitive high resolution melting assay (MS-HRMA) for the semi-quantitative determination of CST6 promoter methylation in clinical samples 
BMC Cancer  2012;12:486.
CST6 promoter is highly methylated in cancer, and its detection can provide important prognostic information in breast cancer patients. The aim of our study was to develop a Methylation-Sensitive High Resolution Melting Analysis (MS-HRMA) assay for the investigation of CST6 promoter methylation.
We designed primers that amplify both methylated and unmethylated CST6 sequences after sodium bisulfate (SB) treatment and used spiked control samples of fully methylated to unmethylated SB converted genomic DNA to optimize the assay. We first evaluated the assay by analyzing 36 samples (pilot training group) and further analyzed 80 FFPES from operable breast cancer patients (independent group). MS-HRMA assay results for all 116 samples were compared with Methylation-Specific PCR (MSP) and the results were comparable.
The developed assay is highly specific and sensitive since it can detect the presence of 1% methylated CST6 sequence and provides additionally a semi-quantitative estimation of CST6 promoter methylation. CST6 promoter was methylated in 39/80 (48.75%) of FFPEs with methylation levels being very different among samples. MS-HRMA and MSP gave comparable results when all samples were analyzed by both assays.
The developed MS-HRMA assay for CST6 promoter methylation is closed tube, highly sensitive, cost-effective, rapid and easy-to-perform. It gives comparable results to MSP in less time, while it offers the advantage of additionally providing an estimation of the level of methylation.
PMCID: PMC3495665  PMID: 23088560
Methylation-sensitive high-resolution melting analysis; Cystatin M; CST6; DNA methylation; Breast cancer; Methylation specific PCR
6.  Gene expression profile of circulating tumor cells in breast cancer by RT-qPCR 
BMC Cancer  2011;11:422.
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) have been associated with prognosis especially in breast cancer and have been proposed as a liquid biopsy for repeated follow up examinations. Molecular characterization of CTCs is difficult to address since they are very rare and the amount of available sample is very limited.
We quantified by RT-qPCR CK-19, MAGE-A3, HER-2, TWIST1, hTERT α+β+, and mammaglobin gene transcripts in immunomagnetically positively selected CTCs from 92 breast cancer patients, and 28 healthy individuals. We also compared our results with the CellSearch system in 33 of these patients with early breast cancer.
RT-qPCR is highly sensitive and specific and can detect the expression of each individual gene at the one cell level. None of the genes tested was detected in the group of healthy donors. In 66 operable breast cancer patients, CK-19 was detected in 42.4%, HER-2 in 13.6%, MAGE-A3 in 21.2%, hMAM in 13.6%, TWIST-1 in 42.4%, and hTERT α+β+ in 10.2%. In 26 patients with verified metastasis, CK-19 was detected in 53.8%, HER-2 in 19.2%, MAGE-A3 in 15.4%, hMAM in 30.8%, TWIST-1 in 38.5% and hTERT α+β+in 19.2%. Our preliminary data on the comparison between RT-qPCR and CellSearch in 33 early breast cancer patients showed that RT-qPCR gives more positive results in respect to CellSearch.
Molecular characterization of CTCs has revealed a remarkable heterogeneity of gene expression between breast cancer patients. In a small percentage of patients, CTCs were positive for all six genes tested, while in some patients only one of these genes was expressed. The clinical significance of these findings in early breast cancer remains to be elucidated when the clinical outcome for these patients is known.
PMCID: PMC3224356  PMID: 21967632
7.  What's new on circulating tumor cells? A meeting report 
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) provide unique information for the management of cancer patients. The 7th International Symposium on Minimal Residual Cancer has focused on state of the art research, including exciting advances in understanding the biology of metastasis, CTCs and tumor dormancy. Particular emphasis was placed on the relationship of CTCs to cancer stem cells (CSCs) and the relevance of most recent findings for the development of new targeted therapies. CTCs were evaluated as promising tumor biomarkers and the design and results of the first clinical trials to determine their clinical utility were discussed together with state of the art technology platforms for CTC imaging, detection, quantification and molecular characterization. A liquid biopsy approach that can be used for prognostic and predictive purposes was proposed for the analysis of CTCs.
PMCID: PMC2949631  PMID: 20727231
8.  Hypoxia-inducible factor-1α and vascular endothelial growth factor expression in circulating tumor cells of breast cancer patients 
The detection of peripheral blood circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and bone marrow disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) in breast cancer patients is associated with a high incidence of disease relapse and disease-related death. Since hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) play an important role in angiogenesis and tumor progression, the purpose of the current study was to investigate their expression in CTCs.
The expression of cytokeratins (CK), VEGF, vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (VEGF2), HIF-1α and phosphorylated-focal adhesion kinase (pFAK) in CTCs from 34 patients with metastatic breast cancer who had detectable CK-19 mRNA-positive CTCs was assessed using double staining experiments and confocal laser scanning microscopy. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were stained with a monoclonal A45-B/B3 pancytokeratin antibody in combination with either VEGF or VEGFR2 or HIF-1α or pFAK antibodies, respectively.
pFAK expression in circulating tumor cells was detected in 92% of patients whereas expression of VEGF, VEGF2 and HIF-1α was observed in 62%, 47% and 76% of patients, respectively. VEGF, VEGF2, HIF-1α and pFAK were expressed in 73%, 71%, 56% and 81%, respectively, of all the detected CTCs. Vascular endothelial growth mRNA was also detected by quantitative real-time RT-PCR in immunomagnetically-separated CTCs. Double and triple staining experiments in cytospins of immunomagnetically-isolated CTCs showed that VEGF co-expressed with HIF-1α and VEGF2.
The expression of pFAK, HIF-1α, VEGF and VEGF2 in CTCs of patients with metastatic breast cancer could explain the metastatic potential of these cells and may provide a therapeutic target for their elimination.
PMCID: PMC2815547  PMID: 19919679

Results 1-8 (8)