Stromelysin-3 (STR-3) is a matrix metalloproteinase with a unique pattern of expression and substrate specificity. During embryogenesis and remodeling of normal adult tissues, STR-3 is produced by stromal cells in direct contact with epithelial cells undergoing regional apoptosis and selective cell survival. STR-3 is also overexpressed by interdigitating stromal cells in primary epithelial malignancies. Although STR-3 does not degrade classic extracellular matrix components, the enzyme promotes the establishment of local tumors in nude mice by as yet undefined mechanisms. STR-3 is induced when malignant epithelial cells come into contact with surrounding stromal elements; the active stromal cell-derived 45 kDa enzyme is subsequently processed to a 35 kDa protein without enzymatic activity. We have generated MCF-7 transfectants expressing wild type or catalytically inactive 45 kDa STR-3 (STR-3wt and STR-3cat-) or secreted 35 kDa STR-3 (35 kDa STR-3sec) and evaluated their implantation and survival in nude mice. Tumors developed significantly more rapidly in animals receiving STR-3wt, rather than vector-only, STR-3cat- or 35 kDa STR-3sec transfectants. Most importantly, STR-3wt tumors had a significantly lower percentage of apoptotic cells than tumors derived from vector-only, STR-3cat- or 35 kDa STR-3sec transfectants. Taken together, these studies suggest that the active STR-3 enzyme may increase tumor take by suppressing tumor cell apoptosis and that 45 kDa to 35 kDa STR-3 processing limits STR-3 activity at the tumor/stromal interface. Because STR-3 is secreted as an active enzyme rather than a proform, subsequent 45 kDa to 35 kDa STR-3 processing may represent a novel mechanism for regulating enzymatic activity.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.