Urokinase Receptor Cleavage Correlates With Tumor Volume in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Breast Cancer

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The urokinase plasminogen activator system plays a key role in tissue degradation during cancer invasion. The linker region between domains I and II of the intact, three domain urokinase receptor uPAR(I-III) is highly susceptible to proteolytic cleavage and the resulting cleaved uPAR forms are strong prognostic biomarkers in several types of cancer, i.e., high levels of the cleaved uPAR forms indicate poor survival. To better understand the role of uPAR cleavage in cancer, we have designed immunoassays for specific quantification of intact mouse uPAR [muPAR(I-III)] and mouse uPAR domain I [muPAR(I)]. The level of muPAR(I) is significantly increased in mammary tumor-bearing mice compared to controls and, notably, there is a strong correlation to tumor volume. In contrast, the tumor volume is only weakly correlated to the level of intact muPAR(I-III), indicating that cleavage of muPAR is a more specific marker for cancer than increased expression of muPAR per se. The levels of the muPAR forms are dramatically affected by in vivo challenge with a urokinase -blocking antibody, demonstrating a functional role of uPA in uPAR cleavage. The levels of the muPAR forms are, however, unaffected by uPA-deficiency, suggesting that redundant proteases maintains the task of cleaving uPAR(I-III) when uPA is absent. Our findings emphasize the significance of the cleaved uPAR forms as cancer biomarkers. The strong correlation between muPAR(I) and the tumor volume in our experimental setup may motivate investigations of human uPAR(I) as biomarker for response to oncological treatment. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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