Cancer develops in a multi-step process where environmental carcinogenic exposure is a primary etiological component, and where cell-cell communication governs the biological activities of tissues. Identifying the molecular genes that regulate this process is essential to targeting metastatic breast cancer. Ionizing radiation can modify and damage DNA, RNA, and cell membrane components such as lipids and proteins by direct ionization. Comparing differential gene expression can help to determine the effect of radiation and estrogens on cell adhesion. An in vitro experimental breast cancer model was developed by exposure of the immortalized human breast epithelial cell line MCF-10F to low doses of high linear energy transfer α particle radiation and subsequent growth in the presence of 17β-estradiol. The MCF-10F cell line was analyzed in different stages of transformation that showed gradual phenotypic changes including altered morphology, increase in cell proliferation relative to the control, anchorage-independent growth, and invasive capability before becoming tumorigenic in nude mice. This model was used to determine genes associated with cell adhesion and communication such as E-cadherin, the desmocollin 3, the gap junction protein alpha 1, the Integrin alpha 6, the Integrin beta 6, the Keratin 14, Keratin 16, Keratin 17, Keratin 6B, and the laminin beta 3. Results indicated that most genes had greater expression in the tumorigenic cell line Tumor2 derived from the athymic animal than the Alpha3, a non-tumorigenic cell line exposed only to radiation, indicating that altered expression levels of adhesion molecules depended on estrogen. There is a significant need for experimental model systems that facilitate the study of cell plasticity to assess the importance of estrogens in modulating the biology of cancer cells.
Keywords: E-cadherin; Integrins; Keratins; Laminins; breast cancer; cell adhesion; desmocollin; gap junction protein; ionizing radiation.