Normal as well as neoplastic cells traverse extracellular matrix barriers by mobilizing proteolytic enzymes in response to epidermal growth factor (EGF)-EGF receptor (EGFR) or hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor (SF)-c-Met interactions. The plasminogen activator-plasminogen axis has been proposed to play a key role during cell invasion, but the normal development of plasminogen activator- as well as that of plasminogen-deficient mice supports the existence of alternate proteolytic systems that permit cells to traverse extracellular matrix barriers. To characterize the role that matrix-degrading proteinases play in EGF- or SF-stimulated invasion, a human squamous carcinoma cell line (UM-SCC-1) was triggered atop the matrices of type I collagen or human dermal explants in a three-dimensional culture system. During EGF- or SF-induced invasion, UM-SCC-1 cells expressed urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) and uPA receptor as well as the matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), membrane-type MMP-1, collagenase 1, stromelysin 1, and gelatinase B. Despite the presence of a positive correlation between uPA receptor-uPA expression and growth factor-stimulated invasion, UM-SCC-1 invasion was not affected by inhibitors directed against the plasminogen activator-plasminogen axis. In contrast, both recombinant and synthetic MMP inhibitors completely suppressed invasion by either EGF- or SF-stimulated cells without affecting either proteinase expression or cell motility across collagen-coated surfaces. These data demonstrate that MMPs, but not the plasminogen activator-plasmin system, can directly regulate the ability of either EGF- or SF-stimulated tumor cells to invade interstitial matrix barriers.


Supported by NIH Grant CA71699, the American Society for Head and Neck Surgery, and the American Academy of Otolaryngology.

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