Homeobox protein MSX1 inhibits the growth and metastasis of breast cancer cells and is frequently silenced by promoter methylation

Int J Mol Med. 2018 May;41(5):2986-2996. doi: 10.3892/ijmm.2018.3468. Epub 2018 Feb 7.


Deregulation of msh homeobox 1 (MSX1) has been identified to be associated with multiple human malignant neoplasms. However, the association of the expression and biological function of MSX1 with breast tumorigenesis, and the underlying mechanism remain largely unknown. Therefore, the present study examined the expression and promoter methylation of MSX1 in breast tumor cell lines, primary breast tumors and normal breast tissues using semi-quantitative, quantitative and methylation-specific reverse transcription‑polymerase chain reaction. Colony formation assays, flow cytometric analysis, and wound healing and Transwell assays were used to assess various functions of MSX1. Western blot analyses were also conducted to explore the mechanism of MSX1. The results revealed that MSX1 was broadly expressed in normal human tissues, including breast tissues, but was frequently downregulated or silenced in breast cancer cell lines and primary tumors by promoter methylation. Methylation of the MSX1 promoter was observed in 7/9 (77.8%) breast cancer cell lines and 47/99 (47.5%) primary tumors, but not in normal breast tissues or surgical margin tissues, suggesting that tumor-specific methylation of MSX1 occurs in breast cancer. Pharmacological demethylation reduced MSX1 promoter methylation levels and restored the expression of MSX1. The ectopic expression of MSX1, induced by transfection with a lentiviral vector, significantly inhibited the clonogenicity, proliferation, migration and invasion of breast tumor cells by inducing G1/S cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Ectopic MSX1 expression also inhibited the expression of active β-catenin and its downstream targets c-Myc and cyclin D1, and also increased the cleavage of caspase-3 and poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase. In conclusion, MSX1 exerts tumor-suppressive functions by inducing G1/S cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in breast tumorigenesis. Its methylation may be used as an epigenetic biomarker for the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast / metabolism
  • Breast / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Carcinogenesis / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • MSX1 Transcription Factor / genetics*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / genetics
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*


  • MSX1 Transcription Factor
  • MSX1 protein, human