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Cytostasis and morphological changes induced by mifepristone in human metastatic cancer cells involve cytoskeletal filamentous actin reorganization and impairment of cell adhesion dynamics

BreeAnn N Brandhagen, Chelsea R Tieszen, Tara M Ulmer, Maria S Tracy, Alicia A Goyeneche and Carlos M Telleria*

Author Affiliations

Division of Basic Biomedical Science, Sanford School of Medicine of The University of South Dakota, 414 East Clark Street, Vermillion, SD, 57069, USA

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BMC Cancer 2013, 13:35  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-13-35

Published: 26 January 2013



Changes in cell shape and plasticity in cytoskeletal dynamics are critically involved in cell adhesion, migration, invasion and the overall process of metastasis. Previous work in our laboratory demonstrated that the synthetic steroid mifepristone inhibited the growth of highly metastatic cancer cells, while simultaneously causing striking changes in cellular morphology. Here we assessed whether such morphological alterations developed in response to cytostatic concentrations of mifepristone are reversible or permanent, involve rearrangement of cytoskeletal proteins, and/or affect the adhesive capacity of the cells.


Cancer cell lines of the ovary (SKOV-3), breast (MDA-MB-231), prostate (LNCaP), and nervous system (U87MG) were exposed to cytostatic concentrations of mifepristone and studied by phase-contrast microscopy. The transient or permanent nature of the cytostasis and morphological changes caused by mifepristone was assessed, as well as the rearrangement of cytoskeletal proteins. De-adhesion and adhesion assays were utilized to determine if mifepristone-arrested and morphologically dysregulated cells had abnormal de-adhesion/adhesion dynamics when compared to vehicle-treated controls.


Mifepristone-treated cells displayed a long, thin, spindle-like shape with boundaries resembling those of loosely adhered cells. Growth arrest and morphology changes caused by mifepristone were reversible in SKOV-3, MDA-MB-231 and U87MG, but not in LNCaP cells that instead became senescent. All cancer cell types exposed to mifepristone displayed greatly increased actin ruffling in association with accelerated de-adhesion from the culture plate, and delayed adhesion capacity to various extracellular matrix components.


Cytostatic concentrations of mifepristone induced alterations in the cellular structure of a panel of aggressive, highly metastatic cancer cells of different tissues of origin. Such changes were associated with re-distribution of actin fibers that mainly form non-adhesive membrane ruffles, leading to dysregulated cellular adhesion capacity.