Diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer is associated with a very poor prognosis. New therapeutic targets are urgently needed, but their development is hampered by a lack of understanding of the mechanisms leading to tumor metastasis. Exemplifying this is the fact that the approximately 30% of all breast cancers overexpressing the receptor tyrosine kinase ErbB-2 are characterized by high metastatic potential and poor prognosis, but the signaling events downstream of ErbB-2 that drive cancer cell invasion and metastasis remain incompletely understood. Here we show that overexpression of ErbB-2 in human breast cancer cell lines leads to phosphorylation and activation of the semaphorin receptor Plexin-B1. This was required for ErbB-2–dependent activation of the pro-metastatic small GTPases RhoA and RhoC and promoted invasive behavior of human breast cancer cells. In a mouse model of ErbB-2–overexpressing breast cancer, ablation of the gene encoding Plexin-B1 strongly reduced the occurrence of metastases. Moreover, in human patients with ErbB-2–overexpressing breast cancer, low levels of Plexin-B1 expression correlated with good prognosis. Our data suggest that Plexin-B1 represents a new candidate therapeutic target for treating patients with ErbB-2–positive breast cancer.
Thomas Worzfeld, Jakub M. Swiercz, Mario Looso, Beate K. Straub, Kishor K. Sivaraj, Stefan Offermanns