Neu differentiation factor (NDF, also called heregulin) is a 44-kilodalton glycoprotein that stimulates tyrosine phosphorylation of the Neu/HER-2 receptor and induces phenotypic differentiation of certain mammary cancer cell lines to growth-arrested and milk-producing cells. To determine which molecules participate in the concomitant morphological alterations, we analyzed the expression of several cytoskeletal and surface molecules and found that NDF elevated the expression of the intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1) in cultured AU-565 human adenocarcinoma cells. The levels of both the protein and the mRNA of ICAM-1 were elevated after 3–5 days of treatment with NDF. Elevated expression of ICAM-1 was induced also by γ-interferon and by the tumor-promoting phorbol ester (PMA), albeit with different kinetics. Down-regulation of protein kinase C or its inhibition by calphostin C partially inhibited the effect of NDF, implying that the induction of ICAM-1 may be mediated by protein kinase C.

NDF transcripts were detectable in 3 of 9 human mammary tumors, suggesting that the in vitro effect of the factor may be relevant to breast cancer. By selecting Neu-positive human mammary tumors (n = 39), we found a significant correlation (P < 0.001) between the expression of ICAM-1 and histological features of invasive ductal carcinoma with a prominent carcinoma in situ component. When cultured in vitro the cells of these tumors grew in clusters and formed domelike structures reminiscent of comedo-type carcinoma in situ. In addition, the majority of patients with tumors that coexpressed ICAM-1 and Neu had no lymph node involvement, unlike most Neu-positive but ICAM-1-negative tumors, which metastasized to the lymphatic system. Taken together, our observations suggest that the induction of ICAM-1 by NDF may affect the morphology, differentiation state, and metastasis of Neu-expressing mammary tumor cells.

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Supported by NIH Grants CA50843 (to S. S. B.) and CA51712 (to Y. Y.) and the Minna-James Heinemann Foundation.

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