The selectively permeable basement membranes and the associated extracellular matrix of sea urchin embryos can be obtained intact. Their exterior surfaces have been used as invasion substrates for metastatic melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and fibrosarcoma cells, for primary squamous cell carcinoma cells, and for neonatal melanocytes, fibroblasts, and keratinocytes. About 18% of all metastatic tumor cells placed in contact with sea urchin embryo basement membranes and their associated extracellular matrix invaded them. About 4% of the cells of a primary squamous cell carcinoma, which later metastasized, invaded these substrates. As expected, neonatal melanocytes, keratinocytes, and fibroblasts failed to invade; however, melanocytes treated with scatter factor (hepatocyte growth factor) invaded as efficiently as metastatic tumor cells. This suggests that the lack of invasion by epidermal melanocytes is not due to irreversible differentiation to a noninvasive phenotype. Invasion time courses showed that the metastatic cells tested reached their maximal invasion frequencies in 4 h; thus, invasion of these substrates is rapid and efficient. This suggests that molecules participating in basement membrane recognition and invasion have been functionally conserved during the time separating vertebrates from invertebrates and that their constitutive activity may allow metastatic cells to escape their tissues of origin.


This work was supported by the Pfeiffer Foundation.

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