The role of membrane mucin MUC4 in breast cancer metastasis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A major barrier to the emergence of distant metastases is the s urvival of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) within the vasculature. Lethal stressors, including shear forces from blood flow, anoikis arising from cellular detachment, and exposure to natural killer cells, combine to subvert the ability of primary tumor cells to survive and ultimately seed distant lesions. Further attenuation of this rate-limiting process via therapeutic intervention offers a very attractive opportunity for improving cancer patient outcomes, in turn prompting the need for a deeper understanding of the mo lecular and cellular mechanisms underlying CTC viability. MUC4 is a very large and h eavily glycosylated protein expressed at the apical surfaces of the epithelia of a variety of tissues, is involved in cellular growth signaling and adhesiveness, and contributes to the protection and lubrication of cellular linings. Analysis of patient-matched breast tumor specimens has demonstrated that MUC4 protein levels are upregulated in metastatic lesions relative to primary tumor among all breast tumor subtypes, pointing to a possible selective advantage for MUC4 overexpression in metastasis. Analysis of a genetically engineered mouse model of HER2-positive breast cancer has demonstrated that metastatic efficiency is markedly suppressed with Muc4 deletion and Muc4-knockout tumor cells are poorly associated with platelets and white blood cells known to support CTC viability. In this review, we discuss the diverse roles of MUC4 in tumor progressi on and metastasis and propose that intervening in MUC4 intercellular interactions with binding partners on blood-borne aggregating cells could potentially thwart breast cancer metastatic efficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R17-R32
JournalEndocrine-Related Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Breast
  • Circulating tumor cell
  • Metastasis
  • MUC4
  • Mucin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Oncology
  • Endocrinology
  • Cancer Research


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