Mucins provide a protective barrier for epithelial surfaces, and their overexpression in tumors has been implicated in malignancy. We have previously demonstrated that Muc4, a transmembrane mucin that promotes tumor growth and metastasis, physically interacts with the ErbB2 receptor tyrosine kinase and augments receptor tyrosine phosphorylation in response to the neuregulin-1β (NRG1β) growth factor. In the present study we demonstrate that Muc4 expression in A375 human melanoma cells, as well as MCF7 and T47D human breast cancer cells, enhances NRG1β signaling through the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase pathway. In examining the mechanism underlying Muc4-potetiated ErbB2 signaling, we found that Muc4 expression markedly augments NRG1β binding to A375 cells without altering the total quantity of receptors expressed by the cells. Cell-surface protein biotinylation experiments and immunofluorescence studies suggest that Muc4 induces the relocalization of the ErbB2 and ErbB3 receptors from intracellular compartments to the plasma membrane. Moreover, Muc4 interferes with the accumulation of surface receptors within internal compartments following NRG1β treatment by suppressing the efficiency of receptor internalization. These observations suggest that transmembrane mucins can modulate receptor tyrosine kinase signaling by influencing receptor localization and trafficking and contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms by which mucins contribute to tumor growth and progression.
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