Cancer and Metastasis Reviews

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 507–525 | Cite as

Role of intermediate filaments in migration, invasion and metastasis

  • Mary J. C. Hendrix
  • Elisabeth A. Seftor
  • Yi-Wen Chu
  • Katrina T. Trevor
  • Richard E. B. Seftor


The expression of intermediate filament proteins is remarkably tissue-specific which suggests that the intermediate filament (IF) type(s) present in cells is somehow related to their biological function. However, in some cancers-particularly malignant melanoma and breast carcinoma, there is a strong indication that vimentin and keratin IFs are coexpressed, thus presenting as a dedifferentiated or interconverted (between epithelial and mesenchymal) phenotype. In this review, twoin vitro models are presented which recapitulate the interconverted phenotype in human melanoma and breast carcinoma, and allow, for the first time, unique observations to be made with respect to the role of IFs in cancer progression.

These studies have provided direct evidence linking overexpression of keratin IFs in human melanoma with increased migratory and invasive activityin vitro, which can be down-regulated by substituting dominant-negative keratin mutants. Overexpression of vimentin IFs in the breast carcinoma model leads to augmentation of motility and invasivenessin vitro, which can be transiently down-regulated by treatment with antisense oligonucleotides to vimentin. Additional experimental evidence suggests that the mechanism(s) responsible for the differential expression of metastatic properties associated with the interconverted phenotype rest(s) in the unique interaction, either direct or indirect, of IFs with specific integrins interacting with the extracellular matrix.

In this review, we discuss the observations derived from the human melanoma and breast carcinoma models to address the hypothesis that the ability to coexpress vimentin and keratins confers a selective advantage to tumor cells in their interpretation of and response to signaling cues from the extracellular matrix. The ramifications of these observations are discussed with respect to the patholophysiology of the respectivein situ tumors.

Key words

keratins vimentin intermediate filaments cancer invasion metastasis 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary J. C. Hendrix
    • 1
    • 2
  • Elisabeth A. Seftor
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yi-Wen Chu
    • 3
  • Katrina T. Trevor
    • 4
  • Richard E. B. Seftor
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Anatomy, College of MedicineThe University of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.the Iowa Cancer Center, College of MedicineThe University of IowaIowa CityUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Biomedical SciencesAcademia SinicaTaipeiTaiwan
  4. 4.St. Luke's Medical CenterMilwaukeeUSA

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