Introduction: CXCL12-CXCR4 signaling has been shown to play a role in breast cancer progression by enhancing tumor growth, angiogenesis, triggering cancer cell invasion in vitro, and guiding cancer cells to their sites of metastasis. However, CXCR7 also binds to CXCL12 and has been recently found to enhance lung and breast primary tumor growth, as well as metastasis formation. Our goal was to dissect the contributions of CXCR4 and CXCR7 to the different steps of metastasis - in vivo invasion, intravasation and metastasis formation.
Methods: We overexpressed CXCR4, CXCR7 or both in the rat mammary adenocarcinoma cell line MTLn3. Stable expressors were used to form tumors in severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) mice, and in vivo invasiveness, intravital motility, intravasation, and metastasis were measured.
Results: We found that CXCR4 overexpression increased the chemotactic and invasive behavior of MTLn3 cells to CXCL12, both in vitro and in vivo, as well as in vivo motility and intravasation. CXCR7 overexpression enhanced primary tumor growth and angiogenesis (as indicated by microvessel density and VEGFA expression), but decreased in vivo invasion, intravasation, and metastasis formation. In vitro, expression of CXCR7 alone had no effect in chemotaxis or invasion to CXCL12. However, in the context of increased CXCR4 expression, CXCR7 enhanced chemotaxis to CXCL12 but decreased invasion in response to CXCL12 in vitro and in vivo and impaired CXCL12 stimulated matrix degradation. The changes in matrix degradation correlated with expression of matrix metalloproteinase 12 (MMP12).
Conclusions: We find that CXCR4 and CXCR7 play different roles in metastasis, with CXCR4 mediating breast cancer invasion and CXCR7 impairing invasion but enhancing primary tumor growth through angiogenesis.