Metastasis Research Laboratory, University of Liège, Bât. B23, Sart-Tilman, B-4000 Liège, Belgium.
The skeleton is the privileged target of metastatic human breast cancer cells. Bone metastases are indeed found in virtually all advanced breast cancer patients and generate major morbidity. The high osteotropism of breast cancer cells suggests that they exhibit a selective affinity for mineralized tissues. The observation that mammary malignant cells are able to induce hydroxyapatite crystals deposition within the primary tumour suggests that they can generate a microenvironment that favors the crystallization of calcium and phosphate ions into the bone specific hydroxyapatite. Osteonectin (OSN), osteopontin (OPN) and bone sialoprotein (BSP), 3 bone matrix proteins involved in bone matrix mineralization, are expressed in human breast cancers. BSP, an RGD (Arg-Gly-Asp) containing phosphoprotein, initiates hydroxyapatite deposition and mediates attachment of osteoclast to the same crystals prior to their resorption. Detection of BSP at both the protein and the mRNA levels in human breast cancer and in human breast cancer cell lines (MCF-7, T47-D and MDA-MB 231) indicates that mammary malignant cells synthesize directly BSP rather than uptaking it from the serum. Interestingly, the level of BSP expression correlates with the development of bone metastases and with poor survival. These data suggest that the ectopic expression of bone matrix proteins could be involved in conferring osteotropic properties to circulating metastatic breast cancer cells. These observations open new alleys of investigation for the identification of the molecular mechanisms responsible for the genesis of bone metastases.