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J. Cell Sci. 120 (19): 3395-3403

Research Article

EGF receptor signalling is essential for electric-field-directed migration of breast cancer cells

Jin Pu1, Colin D. McCaig1, Lin Cao2, Zhiqiang Zhao1, Jeffrey E. Segall3, and Min Zhao1,*,{ddagger}

1 School of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, AB25 2ZD, UK
2 School of Medicine, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, AB25 2ZD, UK
3 Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, Program in Motility and Invasion, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461, USA

{ddagger} Author for correspondence (e-mail: m.zhao{at}

Accepted for publication 9 July 2007.

Abstract: The mechanisms by which cancer cells migrate to metastasise are not fully understood. Breast cancers are accompanied by electrical depolarisation of tumour epithelial cells. The electrical changes can be detected on the skin and are used to differentiate malignant from benign breast tumours. Could the electrical signals play a role in metastasis by promoting tumour cell migration? We report that electric fields stimulate and direct migration of human breast cancer cells. Importantly, these effects were more significant in highly metastatic tumour cells than in low metastatic tumour cells. Electric-field-enhanced directional migration correlates well with the expression level of EGF receptor (EGFR/ErbB1). To confirm this, we transfected low metastatic clone MTC cells with human ErbB1, which significantly increased the electrotactic response. Inhibition of ErbB1 completely abolished the directional response of MTLn3 cells to an electric field. Transfection of MTLn3 cells and MDA-MB-435 cells with expression vectors for ErbB family members ErbB1, ErbB2 and ErbB3 also significantly enhanced EF-induced migration. These results suggest that electric signals might play a role in metastasis of breast cancers by enhancing cell migration through the ErbB-signalling pathway.

Key Words: Breast cancer cells • Electric field • Migration • ErbBs • Tumour metastasis

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