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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Ezrin phosphorylation on tyrosine 477 regulates invasion and metastasis of breast cancer cells

Hannah Mak1, Alexandra Naba24, Sonal Varma3, Colleen Schick1, Andrew Day3, Sandip K SenGupta3, Monique Arpin2 and Bruce E Elliott1*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Cancer Biology and Genetics, Cancer Research Institute, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, K7L 3N6, Canada

2 Laboratoire de Morphogenèse et Signalisation Cellulaires, UMR (Unité Mixte de Recherche) 144 CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), Institut Curie, Paris, France

3 Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, K7L3N6, Canada

4 Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

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BMC Cancer 2012, 12:82  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-82

Published: 7 March 2012



The membrane cytoskeletal crosslinker, ezrin, a member of the ERM family of proteins, is frequently over-expressed in human breast cancers, and is required for motility and invasion of epithelial cells. Our group previously showed that ezrin acts co-operatively with the non-receptor tyrosine kinase, Src, in deregulation of cell-cell contacts and scattering of epithelial cells. In particular, ezrin phosphorylation on Y477 by Src is specific to ezrin within the ERM family, and is required for HGF-induced scattering of epithelial cells. We therefore sought to examine the role of Y477 phosphorylation in ezrin on tumor progression.


Using a highly metastatic mouse mammary carcinoma cell line (AC2M2), we tested the effect of over-expressing a non-phosphorylatable form of ezrin (Y477F) on invasive colony growth in 3-dimensional Matrigel cultures, and on local invasion and metastasis in an orthotopic engraftment model.


AC2M2 cells over-expressing Y477F ezrin exhibited delayed migration in vitro, and cohesive round colonies in 3-dimensional Matrigel cultures, compared to control cells that formed invasive colonies with branching chains of cells and numerous actin-rich protrusions. Moreover, over-expression of Y477F ezrin inhibits local tumor invasion in vivo. Whereas orthotopically injected wild type AC2M2 tumor cells were found to infiltrate into the abdominal wall and visceral organs within three weeks, tumors expressing Y477F ezrin remained circumscribed, with little invasion into the surrounding stroma and abdominal wall. Additionally, Y477F ezrin reduces the number of lung metastatic lesions.


Our study implicates a role of Y477 ezrin, which is phosphorylated by Src, in regulating local invasion and metastasis of breast carcinoma cells, and provides a clinically relevant model for assessing the Src/ezrin pathway as a potential prognostic/predictive marker or treatment target for invasive human breast cancer.