The genesis and unique properties of the lymphovascular tumor embolus are because of calpain-regulated proteolysis of E-cadherin

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The genesis and unique properties of the lymphovascular tumor embolus are poorly understood largely because of the absence of an experimental model that specifically reflects this important step of tumor progression. The lymphovascular tumor embolus is a blastocyst-like structure resistant to chemotherapy, efficient at metastasis and overexpressing E-cadherin (E-cad). Conventional dogma has regarded E-cad as a metastasis-suppressor gene involved in epithelial-mesenchymal transition. However, within the lymphovascular embolus, E-cad and its proteolytic processing by calpain and other proteases have a dominant oncogenic rather than suppressive role in metastasis formation and tumor cell survival. Studies using a human xenograft model of inflammatory breast cancer, MARY-X, demonstrated the equivalence of xenograft-generated spheroids with lymphovascular emboli in vivo with both structures demonstrating E-cad overexpression and specific proteolytic processing. Western blot revealed full-length (FL) E-cad (120 kDa) and four fragments: E-cad/NTF1 (100 kDa), E-cad/NTF2 (95 kDa), E-cad/NTF3 (85 kDa) and E-cad/NTF4 (80 kDa). Compared with MARY-X, only E-cad/NTF1 was present in the spheroids. E-cad/NTF1 was produced by calpain, E-cad/NTF2 by γ-secretase and E-cad/NTF3 by a matrix metalloproteinase (MMP). Spheroidgenesis and lymphovascular emboli formation are the direct result of calpain-mediated cleavage of E-cad and the generation of E-cad/NTF1 from membrane-associated E-cad rather than the de novo presence of either E-cad/NTF1 or E-cad/CTF1. E-cad/NTF1 retained the p120ctn-binding site but lost both the β-catenin and α-binding sites, facilitating its disassembly from traditional cadherin-based adherens junctions and its 360° distribution around the embolus. This calpain-mediated proteolysis of E-cad generates the formation of the lymphovascular embolus and is responsible for its unique properties of increased homotypic adhesion, apoptosis resistance and budding.

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