Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

COUP-TFI modifies CXCL12 and CXCR4 expression by activating EGF signaling and stimulates breast cancer cell migration

Antoine Boudot15, Gwenneg Kerdivel1, Sylvain Lecomte1, Gilles Flouriot1, Mireille Desille23, Florence Godey2, Jean Leveque2, Patrick Tas2, Yves Le Dréan1 and Farzad Pakdel14*

Author Affiliations

1 Institut de Recherche en Santé-Environnement-Travail (IRSET), INSERM U1085, Université de Rennes 1, Equipe TREC, Biosit, Rennes, France

2 CHU Rennes, CRLCC Eugène Marquis et Centre de Ressources Biologiques-Santé, F-35033 Rennes, France

3 Inserm, UMR991, Foie, Métabolismes et Cancer, F-35033 Rennes, France

4 INSERM U1085, IRSET, University of Rennes 1, Beaulieu Campus, 35042 Rennes cedex, France

5 Present address: Tufts Medical Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Cancer 2014, 14:407  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-407

Published: 6 June 2014



The orphan receptors COUP-TF (chicken ovalbumin upstream promoter transcription factor) I and II are members of the nuclear receptor superfamily that play distinct and critical roles in vertebrate organogenesis. The involvement of COUP-TFs in cancer development has recently been suggested by several studies but remains poorly understood.


MCF-7 breast cancer cells overexpressing COUP-TFI and human breast tumors were used to investigate the role of COUP-TFI in the regulation of CXCL12/CXCR4 signaling axis in relation to cell growth and migration. We used Immunofluorescence, western-blot, RT-PCR, Formaldehyde-assisted Isolation of Regulatory Elements (FAIRE) assays, as well as cell proliferation and migration assays.


Previously, we showed that COUP-TFI expression is enhanced in breast cancer compared to normal tissue. Here, we report that the CXCL12/CXCR4 signaling pathway, a crucial pathway in cell growth and migration, is an endogenous target of COUP-TFI in breast cancer cells. The overexpression of COUP-TFI in MCF-7 cells inhibits the expression of the chemokine CXCL12 and markedly enhances the expression of its receptor, CXCR4. Our results demonstrate that the modification of CXCL12/CXCR4 expression by COUP-TFI is mediated by the activation of epithelial growth factor (EGF) and the EGF receptor. Furthermore, we provide evidence that these effects of COUP-TFI increase the growth and motility of MCF-7 cells in response to CXCL12. Cell migration toward a CXCL12 gradient was inhibited by AMD3100, a specific antagonist of CXCR4, or in the presence of excess CXCL12 in the cell culture medium. The expression profiles of CXCR4, CXCR7, CXCL12, and COUP-TFI mRNA in 82 breast tumors and control non-tumor samples were measured using real-time PCR. CXCR4 expression was found to be significantly increased in the tumors and correlated with the tumor grade, whereas the expression of CXCL12 was significantly decreased in the tumors compared with the healthy samples. Significantly higher COUP-TFI mRNA expression was also detected in grade 1 tumors.


Together, our mechanistic in vitro assays and in vivo results suggest that a reduction in chemokine CXCL12 expression, with an enhancement of CXCR4 expression, provoked by COUP-TFI, could be associated with an increase in the invasive potential of breast cancer cells.

COUP-TF; CXCL12 signaling; Estrogen receptor; Cell migration; Breast cancer