The Role of Cathepsin D in the Invasiveness of Human Breast Cancer Cells

Michael D. Johnson, Jeffrey A. Torri, Marc E. Lippman, Robert B. Dickson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


The aspartyl protease cathepsin D has been shown to be a marker of poor prognosis when found at high levels in primary breast tumors. It has been suggested that this is because the production of cathepsin D increases the invasive potential of the tumor cells, thus increasing the probability of metastasis. We have therefore conducted experiments to determine if secreted cathepsin D makes a significant contribution to the invasive phenotype of breast cancer cells in the Boyden chamber assay of invasion, which measures the ability of a cell to invade through an artificial basement membrane. Cathepsin D secretion and Boyden chamber invasiveness were measured in nine clones of the breast cancer cell line MCF-7, and no correlation was found between cathepsin secretion and invasive behavior. Invasion assays were also conducted in the presence of the aspartyl protease inhibitor pepstatin A, and no inhibition of the invasive behavior of cells was seen. Since low-pH environments are required for both the activation of pro-cathepsin D and the activity of the mature enzyme, assays were also conducted in the presence of chloroquine to neutralize the pH in the acidic compartments of the cells. This treatment did not inhibit invasiveness. Cathepsin D secretion by the breast cancer cell lines MDA-MB-231, MDA-MB-435, MDA-MB-435s, MDA-MB-468, SK-Br-3, and MCF-7-ADRr was also measured. Again, there was no correlation with invasion. In fact, cathepsin D levels were inversely correlated with aggressive behavior in vivo and in vitro in previously reported studies. These data suggest that cathepsin D secretion by tumor cells is not an important determinant of the invasiveness of the tumor cells per se. These data also reinforce the view that the poor prognosis in clinical breast cancer linked to high tumor levels of cathepsin D is probably due to high levels of cathepsin D in the stromal components of the tumor such as infiltrating inflammatory cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)873-877
Number of pages5
JournalCancer Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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