Open Access Open Badges Research article

p130Cas/Cyclooxygenase-2 axis in the control of mesenchymal plasticity of breast cancer cells

Brigitte Bisaro1, Maura Montani2, Georgia Konstantinidou2, Cristina Marchini2, Lucia Pietrella2, Manuela Iezzi3, Mirco Galiè4, Francesca Orso1, Annalisa Camporeale1, Shana M Colombo1, Paola Di Stefano1, Giusy Tornillo1, Maria P Camacho-Leal1, Emilia Turco1, Daniela Taverna1, Sara Cabodi1, Augusto Amici2* and Paola Defilippi1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Biotechnology and Health Sciences, University of Torino, Via Nizza 52, Torino, 10126, Italy

2 Department of Bioscience and Biotechnology, University of Camerino, Via Gentile III da Varano, Camerino 62032, Italy

3 Aging Research Centre, G. d'Annunzio University, Via dei Vestini 31, Chieti, 66013, Italy

4 Dipartimento di Scienze Neurologiche, Neuropsicologiche, Morfologiche e Motorie, University of Verona, Piazzale L.A. Scuro 10, Verona 37134, Italy

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Breast Cancer Research 2012, 14:R137  doi:10.1186/bcr3342

Published: 26 October 2012



Intrinsic plasticity of breast carcinoma cells allows them to undergo a transient and reversible conversion into mesenchymal cells to disseminate into distant organs, where they can re-differentiate to an epithelial-like status to form a cohesive secondary mass. The p130Cas scaffold protein is overexpressed in human ER+ and HER2+ breast cancer where it contributes to cancer progression, invasion and resistance to therapy. However, its role in regulating mesenchymal aggressive breast cancer cells remains to be determined. The aim of this study was to investigate the molecular and functional involvement of this adaptor protein in breast cancer cell plasticity.


We used silencing strategies and rescue experiments to evaluate phenotypic and biochemical changes from mesenchymal to epithelial traits in breast tumor cell lines. In the mouse A17 cell model previously related to mesenchymal cancer stem cells and basal-like breast cancer, we biochemically dissected the signaling pathways involved and performed functional in vivo tumor growth ability assays. The significance of the signaling platform was assessed in a human setting through the use of specific inhibitors in aggressive MDA-MB-231 subpopulation LM2-4175 cells. To evaluate the clinical relevance of the results, we analyzed publicly available microarray data from the Netherlands Cancer Institute and from the Koo Foundation Sun Yat-Sen Cancer Center.


We show that p130Cas silencing induces loss of mesenchymal features, by downregulating Vimentin, Snail, Slug and Twist transcriptional factors, resulting in the acquirement of epithelial-like traits. Mechanistically, p130Cas controls Cyclooxygenase-2 transcriptional expression, which in turn contributes to p130Cas-dependent maintenance of mesenchymal phenotype. This cascade of events also compromises in vivo tumor growth through inhibition of cell signaling controlling cell cycle progression. c-Src and JNK kinases are sequential players in p130Cas/ Cyclooxygenase-2 axis and their pharmacological inhibition is sufficient to downregulate Cyclooxygenase-2 leading to an epithelial phenotype. Finally, in silico microarray data analysis indicates that p130Cas and Cyclooxygenase-2 concomitant overexpression predicts poor survival and high probability of breast tumor recurrence.


Overall, these data identify a new p130Cas/Cyclooxygenase-2 axis as a crucial element in the control of breast tumor plasticity, opening new therapeutic strategies leading to inhibition of these pathways in aggressive breast carcinoma.