Hypoxia attenuates the expression of E-cadherin via up-regulation of SNAIL in ovarian carcinoma cells

Am J Pathol. 2003 Oct;163(4):1437-47. doi: 10.1016/S0002-9440(10)63501-8.


Since ovarian carcinoma cells detach from the primary lesion and metastasize via peritoneal dissemination, we hypothesized that these cells are exposed to hypoxia, which may affect cell attachment and invasiveness. To address this hypothesis, we first examined in vivo the immunohistochemical expression of hypoxia-inducible factor-1alpha (HIF-1alpha) and its topological correlation with E-cadherin expression in ovarian carcinomas. We then examined in vitro the effect of hypoxia on the mRNA and protein expressions of E-cadherin using two ovarian cancer cell lines, SKOV3 and OVCAR3, and normal ovarian surface epithelial (OSE) cells. In addition, hypoxia-induced change in the expression of SNAIL, a transcriptional factor repressing E-cadherin expression, was also analyzed. Finally, we examined the facilitation of invasiveness of ovarian cancer cells under hypoxia using Matrigel invasion assay. Immunohistochemically, nuclear localization of HIF-1alpha was observed in 32 of the 76 (42%) carcinomas studied, and showed a topological correlation with loss of E-cadherin expression. Northern blotting, real-time PCR and Western blotting demonstrated that E-cadherin expression was remarkably decreased under hypoxia in both SKOV3 and OVCAR3 cells, but not in normal OSE cells. mRNA expression of SNAIL was increased under hypoxia in both ovarian cancer cell lines. Invasion assay revealed that hypoxia increases the invasiveness of ovarian cancer cells. Accordingly, the present study demonstrated that hypoxia induces down-regulation of E-cadherin in ovarian carcinoma cells, via up-regulation of the transcriptional repressor SNAIL. These findings suggest that hypoxia plays an important role in the change in intercellular attachment, which may be involved in the initiation of tumor progression of ovarian cancer cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cadherins / genetics
  • Cadherins / metabolism*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / metabolism*
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Snail Family Transcription Factors
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Up-Regulation


  • Cadherins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • HIF1A protein, human
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Snail Family Transcription Factors
  • Transcription Factors