Anoikis, a special apoptotic process occurring in response to loss of cell adhesion to the extracellular matrix, is a fundamental surveillance process for maintaining tissue homeostasis. Resistance to anoikis characterises cancer cells and is a pre-requisite for metastasis. This study shows that overexpression of the transmembrane mucin protein MUC1 prevents initiation of anoikis in epithelial cancer cells in response to loss of adhesion. We show that this effect is largely attributed to the elongated and heavily glycosylated extracellular domain of MUC1 that protrudes high above the cell membrane and hence prevents activation of the cell surface anoikis-initiating molecules such as integrins and death receptors by providing them a mechanically 'homing' microenvironment. As overexpression of MUC1 is a common feature of epithelial cancers and as resistance to anoikis is a hallmark of both oncogenic epithelial-mesenchymal transition and metastasis, MUC1-mediated cell resistance to anoikis may represent one of the fundamental regulatory mechanisms in tumourigenesis and metastasis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology
- Cancer Research