Open Access Research article

Nuclear location of tumor suppressor protein maspin inhibits proliferation of breast cancer cells without affecting proliferation of normal epithelial cells

Magdalena Machowska1, Katarzyna Wachowicz13, Mirosław Sopel2 and Ryszard Rzepecki1*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory of Nuclear Proteins, Faculty of Biotechnology, University of Wroclaw, 63/77 Przybyszewskiego Street, 51-148 Wrocław, Poland

2 Department of Biology and Botanical Pharmacy, Medical University, 211 Borowska Street, 50-556 Wrocław, Poland

3 Present address: Division of Translational Cell Genetics, Department for Pharmacology and Genetics, Medical University of Innsbruck, 1a Peter Mayr Street, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:142  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-142

Published: 28 February 2014



Maspin, which is classified as a tumor suppressor protein, is downregulated in many types of cancer. Several studies have suggested potential anti-proliferative activity of maspin as well as sensitizing activity of maspin for therapeutic cytotoxic agents in breast cancer tissue culture and animal models. All of the experimental data gathered so far have been based on studies with maspin localized cytoplasmically, while maspin in breast cancer tumor cells may be located in the cytoplasm, nucleus or both. In this study, the effect of maspin cytoplasmic and nuclear location and expression level on breast cancer proliferation and patient survival was studied.


Tissue sections from 166 patients with invasive ductal breast cancer were stained by immunohistochemistry for maspin and Ki-67 protein. The localization and expression level of maspin were correlated with estimated patient overall survival and percent of Ki-67-positive cells. In further studies, we created constructs for transient transfection of maspin into breast cancer cells with targeted cytoplasmic and nuclear location. We analyzed the effect of maspin location in normal epithelial cell line MCF10A and three breast cancer cell lines - MCF-7, MDA-MB-231 and SKBR-3 - by immunofluorescence and proliferation assay.


We observed a strong positive correlation between moderate and high nuclear maspin level and survival of patients. Moreover, a statistically significant negative relationship was observed between nuclear maspin and Ki-67 expression in patients with invasive ductal breast cancer. Spearman’s correlation analysis showed a negative correlation between level of maspin localized in nucleus and percentage of Ki-67 positive cells. No such differences were observed in cells with cytoplasmic maspin. We found a strong correlation between nuclear maspin and loss of Ki-67 protein in breast cancer cell lines, while there was no effect in normal epithelial cells from breast. The anti-proliferative effect of nuclear maspin on breast cancer cells was statistically significant in comparison to cytoplasmic maspin.


Our results suggest that nuclear maspin localization may be a prognostic factor in breast cancer and may have a strong therapeutic potential in gene therapy. Moreover, these data provide a new insight into the role of cytoplasmic and nuclear fractions of maspin in breast cancer.

Maspin; Breast cancer; Nuclear maspin; Cell proliferation; Ki-67