Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), classified as World Health Organization grade IV astrocytoma, is the deadliest adult cancer of the central nervous system. An important contributing factor to poor survival rates in GBM is extensive invasion, which decreases the efficacy of resection and subsequent adjuvant therapies. These treatments could be markedly improved with increased resolution of the genetic and molecular initiators and effectors of invasion. Connexin 43 (Cx43) is the principal astrocytic gap junction (GJ) protein. Despite the heterogeneity of GBM, a subpopulation of cells in almost all GBM tumors express Cx43. Functional GJs between GBM cells and astrocytes at the tumor edge are of critical interest for understanding invasion. In this study, we find that both in vitro and in ex vivo slice cultures, GBM is substantially less invasive when placed in a Cx43-deficient astrocyte environment. Furthermore, when Cx43 is deleted in GBM, the invasive phenotype is recovered. These data strongly suggest that there are opposing roles for Cx43 in GBM migration. We find that Cx43 is localized to the tumor edge in our ex vivo model, suggesting that GBM–astrocyte GJ communication at the tumor border is a driving force for invasion. Finally, we find that by a Cx43-dependent mechanism, but likely not direct channel-mediated diffusion, miRNAs associated with cell–matrix adhesion are transferred from GBM to astrocytes and miR-19b promotes invasion, revealing a role for post-transcriptional manipulation of astrocytes in fostering an invasion-permissive peritumoral niche.
Cx43-mediated communication, specifically miRNA transfer, profoundly impacts glioblastoma invasion and may enable further therapeutic insight.