The primary cause of breast cancer mortality is the metastatic invasion of cancerous stem cells (CSC). Cluster of differentiation 44 (CD44) is a well-known CSC marker in various cancers, as well as a key role player in metastasis and relapse of breast cancer. CD44 is a cell-membrane embedded protein, and it interacts with different proteins to regulate cancer cell behavior. Transcription factor forkhead box protein A2 (FOXA2) acts as an important regulator in multiple cancers, including breast cancer. However, the biological significance of CD44-FOXA2 association in breast cancer metastasis remains unclear. Herein, we observed that CD44 expression was higher in metastatic lymph nodes compared to primary tumors using a flow cytometric analysis. CD44 overexpression in breast cancer cell lines significantly promoted cell migration and invasion abilities, whereas the opposite effects occurred upon the knockdown of CD44. The stem cell array analysis revealed that FOXA2 expression was upregulated in CD44 knockdown cells. However, the knockdown of FOXA2 in CD44 knockdown cells reversed the effects on cell migration and invasion. Furthermore, we found that CD44 mediated FOXA2 localization in breast cancer cells through the AKT pathway. Moreover, the immunofluorescence assay demonstrated that AKT inhibitor wortmannin and AKT activator SC79 treatment in breast cancer cells impacted FOXA2 localization. Collectively, this study highlights that CD44 promotes breast cancer metastasis by downregulating nuclear FOXA2.
Keywords: AKT; CD44; FOXA2; breast cancer; metastasis.