Transferrin receptor overexpression enhances transferrin responsiveness and the metastatic growth of a rat mammary adenocarcinoma cell line

Philip G. Cavanaugh, Li Bin Jia, Yi Yu Zou, Garth L. Nicolson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


We previously found that breast cancer cell transferrin receptor expression and proliferative response to transferrin often correlated with metastatic capability. To further explore this, we transfected mammary tumor cells with a cDNA coding for the transferrin receptor and examined the effects of its overexpression on various cellular properties. A human transferrin receptor expression plasmid was made by excising the cDNA for the receptor from pcDTR1 and ligating it into the multiple cloning site of pcDNA1Neo. The resulting construct was transfected into the poorly metastatic rat MTLn2 line that expresses low endogenous levels of rat transferrin receptor, and transfection-induced receptor expression was ascertained using antibodies specific for the human protein. Approximately 50% of the initial geneticin-resistant transfected MTLn2 cells overexpressed human transferrin receptor protein. High expressors were further isolated by four sequential FACS sorts. The final cell population expressed approximately 3-7 times more cell surface transferrin receptor than did vector transfected controls. Both lines proliferated at the same rate in normal (medium plus 5% FBS) culture conditions. However, in serum-free conditions, the transferrin receptor overexpressor cells displayed a pronounced proliferative response to transferrin whereas the control line did not. When injected into the mammary fat pads of female nude mice, cells from both lines formed micrometastases to the lung that were specifically visualized by immunohistochemical staining of rat cytokeratin 17. This revealed that the transferrin receptor transfected line formed larger lesions of this nature than did cells from the vector transfected controls. When injected into the tail vein of female nude mice, the transferrin receptor overexpressors likewise formed gross lung metastases of remarkably greater size than did the vector only transfectants. Overexpression of cell surface human transferrin receptor on MTLn2 cells appeared to affect their in vitro growth response to transferrin and their ability to grow at a secondary site in vitro.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-217
Number of pages15
JournalBreast Cancer Research and Treatment
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Breast neoplasms
  • Metastasis
  • Transferrin
  • Transferrin receptor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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