Collagenases and other neutral proteases in tumors may facilitate tumor extension, invasion, and subsequent metastasis. We report the effects of vitamin A and dexamethasone, known inhibitors of collagenase production in vitro, on the collagen metabolism of mouse mammary adenocarcinoma and its capsule, borne by C3H/HeJ mice. The weight of the capsule was about 4% of the tumor, yet the total collagen content of the capsule was about 10-fold greater than that of the tumor tissue; tumor cells had no detectable collagen. With tumor growth, the collagenase and other neutral protease activities were increased in the tumor tissue; a negative correlation existed between collagenase activity and collagen content of the capsule. The protease activities of the tumor borne by vitamin A-treated hosts were about 50% lower than those of the controls; this coincided with a slight increase in the collagen content of the capsule. In contrast, the collagen content of the capsule borne by dexamethasone-treated hosts was 50% less than that of the controls; the protease activities were similar to the controls and occurred with tumor invasion and metastasis. Results suggest that the collagen metabolism of the capsule may be an indicator of proteolytic events within the tumor and the metastatic potential of the tumor that, in turn, suggests the possibility of preventing metastasis by inhibiting the production of collagenases and other neutral proteases, thereby localizing the tumor cells within the capsule. Vitamin A could be used for that purpose.


This work was supported by USPHS Grant 1 R01 CA 35469 awarded by the National Cancer Institute, Department of Health and Human Services, and by NIH Grant AM-17702.

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