Introduction: CCN6/WISP3 belongs to the CCN (Cyr61, CTGF, Nov) family of genes that contains a conserved insulin-like growth factor (IGF) binding protein motif. CCN6 is a secreted protein lost in 80% of the aggressive inflammatory breast cancers, and can decrease mammary tumor growth in vitro and in vivo. We hypothesized that inhibition of CCN6 might result in the loss of a growth regulatory function that protects mammary epithelial cells from the tumorigenic effects of growth factors, particularly IGF-1.
Method: We treated human mammary epithelial (HME) cells with a CCN6 hairpin short interfering RNA.
Results: CCN6-deficient cells showed increased motility and invasiveness, and developed features of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Inhibition of CCN6 expression promoted anchorage-independent growth of HME cells and rendered them more responsive to the growth effects of IGF-1, which was coupled with the increased phosphorylation of IGF-1 receptor and insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1).
Conclusion: Specific stable inhibition of CCN6 expression in HME cells induces EMT, promotes anchorage-independent growth, motility and invasiveness, and sensitizes mammary epithelial cells to the growth effects of IGF-1.