The Role of CCL21/CCR7 Chemokine Axis in Breast Cancer Progression
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Tumor-induced lymphangiogenesis facilitates breast cancer progression by generating new lymphatic vessels that serve as conduits for tumor dissemination to lymph nodes and beyond. Given the recent evidence suggesting the implication of C-C chemokine ligand 21/chemokine receptor 7 (CCL21/CCR7) in lymph node metastasis, the aim of our study was to define the role of this chemokine pair in breast cancer-associated lymphangiogenesis. The expression analysis of CCL21/CCR7 pair and lymphatic endothelial cell (LEC) markers in breast cancer specimens was performed by means of quantitative real-time PCR. By utilizing CCR7 and CCL21 gene manipulated breast cancer cell implants into orthotopic sites of nude mice, lymphatic vessel formation was assessed through quantitative real-time PCR, immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence assays. Finally, the lymphangiogenic potential of CCL21/CCR7 was assessed in vitro with primary LECs through separate functional assays, each attempting to mimic different stages of the lymphangiogenic process. We found that CCR7 mRNA expression in human breast cancer tissues positively correlates with the expression of lymphatic endothelial markers LYVE-1, podoplanin, Prox-1, and vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C). We demonstrated that the expression of CCL21/CCR7 by breast cancer cells has the ability to promote tumor-induced lymph-vascular recruitment in vivo. In vitro, CCL21/CCR7 chemokine axis regulates the expression and secretion of lymphangiogenic factor VEGF-C and thereby promotes proliferation, migration, as well as tube formation of the primary human LECs. Finally, we showed that protein kinase B (AKT) signaling pathway is the intracellular mechanism of CCR7-mediated VEGF-C secretion by human breast cancer cells. These results reveal that CCR7 and VEGF-C display a significant crosstalk and suggest a novel role of the CCL21/CCR7 chemokine axis in the promotion of breast cancer-induced lymphangiogenesis.
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