Post-EMT: Cadherin-11 mediates cancer hijacking fibroblasts

Weirong Kang, Yibo Fan, Yinxiao Du, Elina A. Tonkova, Yi-Hsin Hsu, Kel Vin Tan, Stephanie Alexander, Bin Sheng Wong, Haocheng Yang, Jingyuan LUO, Kuo Yao, Jiayao Yang, Xin Hu, Tingting Liu, Yu Gan, Jian Zhang, Jean J. Zhao, Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, Peter Friedl, Pek Lan KhongAiping Lu, Mien-Chie Hung, Michael B. Brenner, Jeffrey E. Segall, Zhizhan Gu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Working paperPreprint


Current prevailing knowledge on EMT (epithelial mesenchymal transition) deems epithelial cells acquire the characters of mesenchymal cells to be capable of invading and metastasizing on their own. One of the signature events of EMT is called “cadherin switch”, e.g. the epithelial E-cadherin switching to the mesenchymal Cadherin-11. Here, we report the critical events after EMT that cancer cells utilize cadherin-11 to hijack the endogenous cadherin-11 positive fibroblasts. Numerous 3-D cell invasion assays with high-content live cell imaging methods reveal that cadherin-11 positive cancer cells adhere to and migrate back and forth dynamically on the cell bodies of fibroblasts. By adhering to fibroblasts for co-invasion through 3-D matrices, cancer cells acquire higher invasion speed and velocity, as well as significantly elevated invasion persistence, which are exclusive characteristics of fibroblast invasion. Silencing cadherin-11 in cancer cells or in fibroblasts, or in both, significantly decouples such physical co-invasion. Additional bioinformatics studies and PDX (patient derived xenograft) studies link such cadherin-11 mediated cancer hijacking fibroblasts to the clinical cancer progression in human such as triple-negative breast cancer patients. Further animal studies confirm cadherin-11 mediates cancer hijacking fibroblasts in vivo and promotes significant solid tumor progression and distant metastasis. Moreover, overexpression of cadherin-11 strikingly protects 4T1-luc cells from implant rejection against firefly luciferase in immunocompetent mice. Overall, our findings report and characterize the critical post-EMT event of cancer hijacking fibroblasts in cancer progression and suggest cadherin-11 can be a therapeutic target for solid tumors with stroma. Our studies hence provide significant updates on the “EMT” theory that EMT cancer cells can hijack fibroblasts to achieve full mesenchymal behaviors in vivo for efficient homing, growth, metastasis and evasion of immune surveillance. Our studies also reveal that cadherin-11 is the key molecule that helps link cancer cells to stromal fibroblasts in the “Seed & Soil” theory.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press
Number of pages34
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2020

Publication series

ISSN (Print)2692-8205


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