, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 155-160

Inhibition of endogenous carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) increases the apoptotic rate of colon cancer cells and inhibits metastatic tumor growth

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Abstract

It has been suggested that carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) enhances metastatic seeding of colon cancer cells due to its homo- and heterophilic binding properties. Our recent finding that endogenous CEA protects colon cancer cells against apoptosis suggests a more complex role of CEA in cancer progression. In this study we compared the in vitro effects of endogenous CEA on tumor cell aggregation and cell cycle regulation of human HT29 colon cancer cells with the corresponding in vivo effects, i.e. tumor cell seeding and formation of metastatic lesions. Stable expression of CEA targeted ribozymes (Rz) under control of a tet-off promoter system allowed regulation of CEA levels on the mRNA and protein level by 50%. Downregulation of CEA levels inhibited tumor cell aggregation by 70%. In accordance with previous studies [1], reduction of CEA levels increased in vitro the apoptotic rate and reduced colony formation by 30% to 50%. To determine the in vivo effect of CEA-dependent aggregate formation and its growth regulating role under apoptotic stress, HT29 cells with high and low CEA levels, respectively, were injected into nude mice. Immunostaining of lung microsections revealed similar numbers of tumor cells one hour after injection. 24 h later virtually all cells were removed from the lung in both groups. However, after 6 weeks all doxycycline treated mice (Rz off = CEA high) showed 14.5 ± 4.6 metastatic lung lesions/mouse while 0.2 ± 0.2 lesions/mouse appeared in the untreated group (Rz on = CEA low) ( P<0.001). Our study demonstrates a multifunctional role of CEA and indicates a prometastatic role of CEA independent of its adhesive function possibly due to its anti-apoptotic function.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.