Breast cancer-secreted miR-939 downregulates VE-cadherin and destroys the barrier function of endothelial monolayers

Cancer Lett. 2017 Jan 1:384:94-100. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2016.09.013. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


Exosomes-secreted microRNAs play an important role in metastatic spread. During this process breast cancer cells acquire the ability to transmigrate through blood vessels by inducing changes in the endothelial barrier. We focused on miR-939 that is predicted to target VE-cadherin, a component of adherens junction involved in vessel permeability. By in silico analysis miR-939 was found highly expressed in the basal-like tumor subtypes and in our cohort of 63 triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs) its expression significantly interacted with lymph node status in predicting disease-free survival probability. We demonstrated, in vitro, that miR-939 directly targets VE-cadherin leading to an increase in HUVECs monolayer permeability. MDA-MB-231 cells transfected with a miR-939 mimic, released miR-939 in exosomes that, once internalized in endothelial cells, favored trans-endothelial migration of MDA-MB-231-GFP cells by the disruption of the endothelial barrier. Notably, when up taken in endothelial cells exosomes caused VE-cadherin down-regulation specifically through miR-939 as we demonstrated by inhibiting miR-939 expression in exosomes-releasing TNBC cells. Together, our data indentify an extracellular pro-tumorigenic role for tumor-derived, exosome-associated miR-939 that can explain its association with worse prognosis in TNBCs.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Exosomes; Metastasis; Triple-negative breast cancer; miR-939.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD / genetics
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism*
  • Cadherins / genetics
  • Cadherins / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Down-Regulation
  • Exosomes / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Paracrine Communication
  • Permeability
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Signal Transduction
  • Time Factors
  • Transendothelial and Transepithelial Migration*
  • Transfection
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antigens, CD
  • Cadherins
  • MIRN939 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • cadherin 5