EpCAM expression in breast cancer cells is associated with enhanced bone metastasis formation

Int J Cancer. 2016 Apr 1;138(7):1698-708. doi: 10.1002/ijc.29921. Epub 2015 Nov 23.


Epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) has been implicated in multiple cellular functions including cell adhesion. EpCAM has also recently been identified as a marker for cancer stem cells (CSCs). Here, we examined the roles of EpCAM in the development of bone metastasis of breast cancer by using well-characterized animal models. Morphological and real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction data showed that the EpCAM-negative and -positive (EpCAM(neg) and EpCAM(pos) ) cell populations isolated from breast cancer cell lines exhibited mesenchymal and epithelial phenotypes, respectively. Flow cytometric analysis revealed that EpCAM(pos) , but not EpCAM(neg) , cells possessed self-renewal and differentiation potentials. Tumorsphere formation in suspension cultures and tumorigenicity in the orthotopic mammary fat pad of mice were significantly greater in EpCAM(pos) cells than in EpCAM(neg) cells. The development of bone metastases induced by an intracardiac injection was markedly increased in mice inoculated with EpCAM(pos) cells. Furthermore, intracardiac inoculations of parental cells demonstrated that the EpCAM(pos) population in cancer cells that colonized in bone was significantly higher than that in parental cells. However, stable transduction of EpCAM into EpCAM(neg) cells failed to reproduce the phenotypes of EpCAM(pos) cells. These results suggest that the expression of EpCAM in breast cancer cells is associated with CSC-like phenotypes, which contribute to the promotion of bone metastases by enhancing tumorigenicity. Our results also support the possibility that the epithelial phenotypes of EpCAM-expressing cells confer advantageous properties for the development of bone metastases, at least after entering the circulation, while EpCAM is likely not solely responsible for the phenotypes of EpCAM(pos) cells.

Keywords: EpCAM; bone metastasis; breast cancer; cancer stem cells; epithelial-mesenchymal transition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism*
  • Bone Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Separation
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunoblotting
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Transduction, Genetic


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule