Epithelial-mesenchymal transition in breast epithelial cells treated with cadmium and the role of Snail

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Epidemiological and experimental studies have implicated cadmium (Cd) with breast cancer. In breast epithelial MCF10A and MDA-MB-231 cells, Cd has been shown to promote cell growth. The present study examined whether Cd also promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a hallmark of cancer progression. Human breast epithelial cells consisting of non-cancerous MCF10A, non-metastatic HCC 1937 and HCC 38, and metastatic MDA-MB-231 were treated with 1 or 3μM Cd for 4weeks. The MCF10A epithelial cells switched to a more mesenchymal-like morphology, which was accompanied by a decrease in the epithelial marker E-cadherin and an increase in the mesenchymal markers N-cadherin and vimentin. In both non-metastatic HCC 1937 and HCC 38 cells, treatment with Cd decreased the epithelial marker claudin-1. In addition, E-cadherin also decreased in the HCC 1937 cells. Even the mesenchymal-like MDA-MB-231 cells exhibited an increase in the mesenchymal marker vimentin. These changes indicated that prolonged treatment with Cd resulted in EMT in both normal and cancer-derived breast epithelial cells. Furthermore, both the MCF10A and MDA-MB-231 cells labeled with Zcad, a dual sensor for tracking EMT, demonstrated a decrease in the epithelial marker E-cadherin and an increase in the mesenchymal marker ZEB-1. Treatment of cells with Cd significantly increased the level of Snail, a transcription factor involved in the regulation of EMT. However, the Cd-induced Snail expression was completely abolished by actinomycin D. Luciferase reporter assay indicated that the expression of Snail was regulated by Cd at the promotor level. Snail was essential for Cd-induced promotion of EMT in the MDA-MB-231 cells, as knockdown of Snail expression blocked Cd-induced cell migration. Together, these results indicate that Cd promotes EMT in breast epithelial cells and does so by modulating the transcription of Snail.

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