The MUC1 heterodimeric protein is aberrantly overexpressed in diverse human carcinomas and contributes to the malignant phenotype. The MUC1-C transmembrane subunit contains a CQC motif in the cytoplasmic domain that has been implicated in the formation of dimers and in its oncogenic function. The present studies demonstrate that MUC1-C forms dimers in human breast and lung cancer cells. MUC1-C dimerization was detectable in the cytoplasm and was independent of MUC1-N, the N-terminal mucin subunit that extends outside the cell. We show that the MUC1-C cytoplasmic domain forms dimers in vitro that are disrupted by reducing agents. Moreover, dimerization of the MUC1-C subunit in cancer cells was blocked by reducing agents and increased by oxidative stress, supporting involvement of the CQC motif in forming disulfide bonds. In support of these observations, mutation of the MUC1-C CQC motif to AQA completely blocked MUC1-C dimerization. Importantly, these studies were performed with MUC1-C devoid of fluorescent proteins, such as GFP, CFP and YFP. In this regard, we show that GFP, CFP and YFP themselves form dimers that are readily detectable with cross-linking agents. The present results further demonstrate that a cell-penetrating peptide that targets the MUC1-C CQC cysteines blocks MUC1-C dimerization in cancer cells. These findings provide definitive evidence that (i) the MUC1-C cytoplasmic domain cysteines are necessary and sufficient for MUC1-C dimerization and (ii) these CQC motif cysteine represent an Achilles’ heel for targeting MUC1-C function.

Citation Format: {Authors}. {Abstract title} [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 103rd Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2012 Mar 31-Apr 4; Chicago, IL. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2012;72(8 Suppl):Abstract nr 160. doi:1538-7445.AM2012-160