, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 277-286

Membrane vesicles shed into the extracellular medium by human breast carcinoma cells carry tumor-associated surface antigens

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We have compared the pattern of surface antigen expression, as detected by monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), in plasma membranes vs shed membrane vesicles of two human breast carcinoma cell lines, MCF-7 and 8701-BC. Antigen expression was detected on cells by immunofluorescence (IF) analysis, whilst, due to their small dimensions, the same technique was not applicable to vesicles. For these structures dot-blot analysis and immunoelectron microscopy (IEM) were employed. When applicable, both cell membranes and membrane vesicles were immunoprecipitated and the precipitate (IP) was analyzed by SDS-PAGE. Cells of both lines expressed HLA class I antigens, epithelial cytokeratins, β1 integrins, CEA and the glycoprotein detected by mAb 19.9, but only MCF-7 cells expressed Lewis Y, episialin and globo-H antigens and only 8701-BC cells expressed folate receptor. Membrane vesicles of both cell lines appeared to be rich in β1, α3 and α5 integrin chains, expressed HLA class I antigens and carried most of the plasma membrane antigens found in the cell membranes. Overall we have analyzed 17 antigens on the two cell lines and on their vesicles. The results obtained for cells (IF and IP) and those for vesicles (dot-blot and IP) were generally concordantly positive or concordantly negative. We obtained a total of 26 clearly concordant combinations on 34 analyses. In three cases we found discordant results, whereas in the remaining combinations we observed slight reactivity and we found difficulties in determining concordance. Discordant results concerned the expression of the following antigens: folate receptors, which were clearly expressed in 8701-BC cells but not detected by dot-blot analysis or IEM on their shed membrane vesicles; neu (c-erb-B2) receptor found in MCF-7 cell membranes but not in their vesicles; and the globo-H antigen recognized by mAb MBr1, detected at low levels on 8701-BC plasma membranes but undetectable on their membrane vesicles. Like vesicles shed in vitro by cultured cells, the vesicles shed in vivo by human breast carcinoma cells could be tagged with several antibodies against tumor-associated antigens. The vesicles shed in vivo were found in association with a fiber network. Some of the fibers had the characteristic fibrin periodicity. These data suggest that tumor markers detected in the circulation of carcinoma patients, at least in part, are carried by shed membrane vesicles. Moreover the observation that membrane vesicles carry both tumor-associated antigens and HLA class I molecules indicate that these structures could in principle present antigens to the immune system. Together with our previous demonstration that membrane vesicles shed by breast carcinoma cells contain TGF-β, these results suggest an important role for vesicles in the immunological escape of these cells. The presence in membrane vesicles of integrins, together with the previous observation that they are rich in gelatinolytic activities, also points to a possible role of these structures in the metastatic behavior of tumor cells.