Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition and the generation of stem-like cells in companion animal breast cancer
Cervantes Arias, Alejandro
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and unspayed female dogs. The Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) is a process involved in embryogenesis, carcinogenesis, and metastasis. The Transforming Growth Factor- Beta (TGF-β) pathway and its associated transcription factors are crucial for EMT induction, during which epithelial cells lose their defining characteristics and acquire mesenchymal properties. EMT has been implicated as a driver of metastasis as it allows cells to migrate and invade different organs. Recent evidence indicates that cancer stem cells are required to establish metastatic tumours at distant sites, and that EMT may promote development of cancer cells with stem-cell characteristics, thus, the EMT pathway may be an important molecular determinant of tumour metastasis. The main objective of this project was to characterise TGF-β-induced EMT in breast cancer models. EMT was induced by TGF-β in human, canine and feline breast cancer cell lines, and confirmed by morphological changes and molecular changes at the protein level by Western blot analysis. Changes at the mRNA level were confirmed in human and canine mammary carcinoma cell lines by qRT-PCR; migratory properties were assessed by invasion assays in vitro in feline and canine mammary carcinoma cells. Importantly, we observed that feline and canine mammary carcinoma cells stimulated by TGF-β acquired stem cell characteristics including sphere-forming ability, self-renewal, and resistance to apoptosis, and also enhanced migration potential. Canine cells showed resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs after TGF-β stimulation. These data suggests a link between EMT and cancer stem-cells. Moreover, global changes in microRNA expression were mapped during TGF-β-induced EMT of canine mammary carcinoma cells. This gave significant insight into the regulation of EMT in canine cancer cells and identified several potential targets, which require further investigation. During EMT cells acquire migratory properties and cancer stem-cell characteristics, suggesting that EMT and the stem-cell phenotype are closely related during cell migration and metastasis, therefore making the TGF-β pathway a potential target for the development of novel therapies against cancer and its progression.