Although the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a normal process that occurs during development, it is thought to be associated with cancer progression and metastasis. Emerging evidence links mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in the tumor microenvironment with the occurrence of EMT in cancer progression. In this study, the human breast cancer cell line MCF7 was co-cultured with human adipose-derived MSCs (hAD-MSCs) in a transwell system. Co-cultured cells were analyzed for changes in cellular morphology, EMT markers, protein expression and tumor characteristics. We found that co-cultured MCF7 cells underwent EMT and established a stable mesenchymal phenotype after prolonged co-culturing. Here, we demonstrate that paracrine transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) secreted by hAD-MSCs regulated the establishment of EMT in MCF7 cells by targeting the ZEB/miR-200 regulatory loop. The downregulation of paracrine TGF-β1 levels can inhibit and reverse the EMT progress by downregulating ZEB1/2 and upregulating miR-200b and miR-200c. The maintenance of a stable mesenchymal state by MCF7 cells required the establishment of autocrine TGF-β signaling to drive and sustain ZEB expression, which had been initiated by the prolonged co-culturing with hAD-MSCs. These results suggest that MSCs may promote breast cancer metastasis by stimulating and facilitating the EMT process.
- Autocrine TGF-β
- Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
- Mesenchymal stem cells
- Paracrine TGF-β
- ZEB/miR-200 regulatory loop