DHEA increases epithelial markers and decreases mesenchymal proteins in breast cancer cells and reduces xenograft growth

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Breast cancer is one of the most common neoplasias and the leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide. Its high mortality rate is linked to a great metastatic capacity associated with the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). During this process, a decrease in epithelial proteins expression and an increase of mesenchymal proteins are observed. On the other hand, it has been shown that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), the most abundant steroid in human plasma, inhibits migration of breast cancer cells; however, the underlying mechanisms have not been elucidated.In this study, the in vitro effect of DHEA on the expression pattern of some EMT-related proteins, such as E-cadherin (epithelial), N-cadherin, vimentin and Snail (mesenchymal) was measured by Western blot and immunofluorescence in MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells with invasive, metastatic and mesenchymal phenotype. Also, the in vivo effect of DHEA on xenograft tumor growth in nude mice (nu/nu) and on expression of the same epithelial and mesenchymal proteins in generated tumors was evaluated.We found that DHEA increased expression of E-cadherin and decreased N-cadherin, vimentin and Snail expression both in MD-MB-231 cells and in the formed tumors, possibly by DHEA-induced reversion of mesenchymal phenotype. These results were correlated with a tumor size reduction in mouse xenografts following DHEA administration either a week earlier or concurrent with breast cancer cells inoculation.In conclusion, DHEA could be useful in the treatment of breast cancer with mesenchymal phenotype.HighlightsDHEA increased E-cadherin expression in MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells.DHEA decreased N-cadherin, vimentin and Snail expression.DHEA changed Snail localization avoiding its activation.DHEA decreased the size of tumors derived from mice xenografts.DHEA reverted the mesenchymal phenotype in breast cancer.

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