Slug/Pcad pathway controls epithelial cell dynamics in mammary gland and breast carcinoma

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Mammary gland morphogenesis results from the coordination of proliferation, cohort migration, apoptosis and stem/progenitor cell dynamics. We showed earlier that the transcription repressor Slug is involved in these functions during mammary tubulogenesis. Slug is expressed by a subpopulation of basal epithelial cells, co-expressed with P-cadherin (Pcad). Slug-knockout mammary glands showed excessive branching, similarly to Pcad-knockout. Here, we found that Slug unexpectedly binds and activates Pcad promoter through E-boxes, inducing Pcad expression. We determined that Pcad can mediate several functions of Slug: Pcad promoted clonal mammosphere growth, basal epithelial differentiation, cell-cell dissociation and cell migration, rescuing Slug depletion. Pcad also promoted cell migration in isolated cells, in association with Src activation, focal adhesion reorganization and cell polarization. Pcad, similarly to Slug, was required for in vitro 3D tubulogenesis. Therefore, Pcad appears to be responsible for epithelial-mesenchymal transition-linked plasticity in mammary epithelial cells. In addition, we found that genes from the Slug/Pcad pathway components were co-expressed and specifically correlated in human breast carcinomas subtypes, carrying pathophysiological significance.

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