Introduction and objectives: Lymphatic metastasis is a common occurrence in human breast cancer, mechanisms remaining poorly understood. MDA-MB-468LN (468LN), a variant of the MDA-MB-468GFP (468GFP) human breast cancer cell line, produces extensive lymphatic metastasis in nude mice. 468LN cells differentially express α9β1 integrin, a receptor for lymphangiogenic factors VEGF-C/-D. We explored whether (1) differential production of VEGF-C/-D by 468LN cells provides an autocrine stimulus for cellular motility by interacting with α9β1 and a paracrine stimulus for lymphangiogenesis in vitro as measured with capillary-like tube formation by human lymphatic endothelial cells (HMVEC-dLy); (2) differential expression of α9 also promotes cellular motility/invasiveness by interacting with macrophage derived factors; (3) stable knock-down of VEGF-D or α9 in 468LN cells abrogates lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis in vivo in nude mice.
Results: A comparison of expression of cyclo-oxygenase (COX)-2 (a VEGF-C/-D inducer), VEGF-C/-D and their receptors revealed little COX-2 expression by either cells. However, 468LN cells showed differential VEGF-D and α9β1 expression, VEGF-D secretion, proliferative, migratory/invasive capacities, latter functions being stimulated further with VEGF-D. The requirement of α9β1 for native and VEGF-D-stimulated proliferation, migration and Erk activation was demonstrated by treating with α9β1 blocking antibody or knock-down of α9. An autocrine role of VEGF-D in migration was shown by its impairment by silencing VEGF-D and restoration with VEGF-D. 468LN cells and their soluble products stimulated tube formation, migration/invasiveness of HMVEC-dLy cell in a VEGF-D dependent manner as indicated by the loss of stimulation by silencing VEGF-D in 468LN cells. Furthermore, 468LN cells showed α9-dependent stimulation of migration/invasiveness by macrophage products. Finally, capacity for intra-tumoral lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis in nude mice was completely abrogated by stable knock-down of either VEGF-D or α9 in 468LN cells.
Conclusion: Differential capacity for VEGF-D production and α9β1 integrin expression by 468LN cells jointly contributed to their lymphatic metastatic phenotype.