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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Up-regulation of METCAM/MUC18 promotes motility, invasion, and tumorigenesis of human breast cancer cells

Guo-fang Zeng12, Shao-xi Cai1* and Guang-Jer Wu2*

Author Affiliations

1 Bioengineering College, Chongqing University, Chongqing 400044, China

2 Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the Winship Cancer Institute, Emory University School of Medicine, 1510 Clifton Rd, NE, Room 3022/3027 Rollins Research Center Atlanta, GA, 30322, USA

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BMC Cancer 2011, 11:113  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-113

Published: 30 March 2011



Conflicting research has identified METCAM/MUC18, an integral membrane cell adhesion molecule (CAM) in the Ig-like gene super-family, as both a tumor promoter and a tumor suppressor in the development of breast cancer. To resolve this, we have re-investigated the role of this CAM in the progression of human breast cancer cells.


Three breast cancer cell lines were used for the tests: one luminal-like breast cancer cell line, MCF7, which did not express any METCAM/MUC18, and two basal-like breast cancer cell lines, MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-468, which expressed moderate levels of the protein.

MCF7 cells were transfected with the human METCAM/MUC18 cDNA to obtain G418-resistant clones which expressed the protein and were used for testing effects of human METCAM/MUC18 expression on in vitro motility and invasiveness, and in vitro and in vivo tumorigenesis. Both MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-468 cells already expressed METCAM/MUC18. They were directly used for in vitro tests in the presence and absence of an anti-METCAM/MUC18 antibody.


In MCF7 cells, enforced METCAM/MUC18 expression increased in vitro motility, invasiveness, anchorage-independent colony formation (in vitro tumorigenesis), and in vivo tumorigenesis. In both MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-468 cells, the anti-METCAM/MUC18 antibody inhibited both motility and invasiveness. Though both MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-468 cells established a disorganized growth in 3D basement membrane culture assay, the introduction of the anti-METCAM/MUC18 antibody completely destroyed their growth in the 3D culture.


These findings support the notion that human METCAM/MUC18 expression promotes the progression of human breast cancer cells by increasing their motility, invasiveness and tumorigenesis.