Terminal fucosylated motifs of glycoproteins and glycolipid chains are often altered in cancer cells. We investigated the link between fucosylation changes and critical steps in cancer progression: epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and lymph node metastasis.Using mammary cell lines, we demonstrate that during EMT, expression of some fucosylated antigens (e.g.: Lewis Y) is decreased as a result of repression of the fucosyltransferase genes FUT1 and FUT3. Moreover, we identify the fucose-binding bacterial lectin BC2L-C-Nt as a specific probe for the epithelial state.Prolectin (CLEC17A), a human lectin found on lymph node B cells, shares ligand specificities with BC2L-C-Nt. It binds preferentially to epithelial rather than to mesenchymal cells, and microfluidic experiments showed that prolectin behaves as a cell adhesion molecule for epithelial cells. Comparison of paired primary tumors/lymph node metastases revealed an increase of prolectin staining in metastasis and high FUT1 and FUT3 mRNA expression was associated with poor prognosis. Our data suggest that tumor cells invading the lymph nodes and expressing fucosylated motifs associated with the epithelial state could use prolectin as a colonization factor.
Keywords: epithelial to mesenchymal transition; fucose; lectins; lymph node metastasis.