Lower expression of CXCR4 in lymph node metastases than in primary breast cancers: potential regulation by ligand-dependent degradation and HIF-1alpha

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2006 Jul 21;346(1):252-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2006.05.110. Epub 2006 May 26.


Stromal-derived factor-1 (SDF-1) is a unique ligand of the CXC chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4), which is critically involved in the metastasis of breast cancer. High levels of SDF-1 in the common destination organs of metastasis, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and bones, attract CXCR4-positive tumor cells. The interaction between SDF-1 and CXCR4 leads to the activation of specific signaling pathways, allowing for homing and metastatic progression. However, regulation of CXCR4 expression at the metastatic organ site is not well-documented. We detected the expression of CXCR4 and hypoxia inducible factor (HIF)-1alpha in breast tumor tissues by immunohistochemical staining and analyzed SDF-1 in primary tumors and lymph nodes using real-time RT-PCR. Compared to the corresponding metastasized tumors in the lymph nodes, primary invasive carcinomas showed more intense staining for CXCR4, particularly on the cellular membrane. Both primary tumors and lymph node metastases exhibited higher levels of CXCR4 expression compared to non-neoplastic breast tissues. Therefore, we hypothesized that the tumor environment in the lymph nodes may cause the reduction of CXCR4 levels in the metastatic tumor cells because of: (1) high SDF-1 levels and (2) lower levels of HIF-1alpha. Our in vitro data demonstrated that high levels of SDF-1 can induce the internalization and degradation of CXCR4 through the lysosome pathway. In addition, lower levels of HIF-1alpha in the lymph node metastases, probably induced by the less hypoxic environment, further lowered CXCR4 levels. These results indicate that ligand-dependent degradation and lower HIF-1alpha levels may be potential causes of lowered levels of CXCR4 in the lymph nodes compared to the primary tumors. Our study suggests that CXCR4 levels in tumor cells are regulated by its microenvironment. These findings may enhance our ability to understand the biological behavior of breast cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chemokine CXCL12
  • Chemokines, CXC / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit / physiology*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / physiopathology*
  • Receptors, CXCR4 / biosynthesis*
  • Receptors, CXCR4 / metabolism


  • CXCL12 protein, human
  • Chemokine CXCL12
  • Chemokines, CXC
  • HIF1A protein, human
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Receptors, CXCR4