OCEDP Research Projects

Ovarian Cancer Cell Biological Functions

Understanding the biological functions of ovarian cancer cells is vital to diagnosing and combating disease.

For this reason, the OCEDP is focused on characterizing the functions of various molecules that are involved in a multitude of cellular proceses. 

Cellular Adhesion

Expression of alpha 6 and beta 4 integrins in serous ovarian carcinoma correlates with expression of the basement membrane protein laminin.

Skubitz AP, Bast RC Jr, Wayner EA, Letourneau PC, Wilke MS.

Abstract: The surface of a normal ovary is covered by a monolayer of epithelial cells that rest on a basement membrane. The glycoprotein laminin is the major noncollagenous protein present in the basement membrane. The integrins alpha 1 beta 1, alpha 2 beta 1, alpha 3 beta 1, alpha 6 beta 1, and alpha 6 beta 4 serve as cell surface receptors for laminin. During the progression of serous ovarian carcinoma, tumor cells are frequently exfoliated from the surface of the ovary, thereby losing contact with the basement membrane. This study was designed to determine whether alterations in integrin expression may be associated with the malignant phenotype of the primary ovarian tumor and exfoliated ovarian carcinoma cells in the ascites fluid. By immunohistochemical staining, the entire surface of epithelial cells of normal ovaries stained positively for beta 1, alpha 2, and alpha 3 integrins, whereas only the basal surface of the epithelial cells, where they are in contact with laminin, stained positively for alpha 6 and beta 4. The entire surface of epithelial cells of solid tumors from patients with serous ovarian carcinoma stained positively for beta 1, alpha 2, and alpha 3 integrins. In most cases, no intact basement membrane surrounded the tumor nests, and staining for alpha 6 and beta 4 was irregular. When present, the basement membrane stained positively for laminin, and the basal surface of the epithelial cells stained positively for alpha 6 and beta 4. Ovarian carcinoma ascites cells exhibited a distinct phenotype, with a significant decrease in expression of the alpha 6 and beta 4 integrin subunits. As alpha 6 and beta 4 integrin subunits are present at the basal surface of many epithelial cells and serve as receptors for laminin, it is possible that ovarian carcinoma epithelial cells may be released from the basement membrane of the ovary due to their deficit of alpha 6 and beta 4 integrin subunits.

View full paper here

Association of beta 1 integrin with protein kinase activity in large detergent resistant complexes.

Skubitz AP, Campbell KD, Goueli S, Skubitz KM.

Abstract: Integrins play a critical role in cell adhesion and mediate cell signaling. This report identifies the association of serine protein kinase activity with the beta 1 integrin by immunoprecipitation and phosphoamino acid analysis techniques. Reprecipitation techniques suggested that the serine kinase activity was not a member of the protein kinase C family. By gel filtration, most of the protein kinase activity associated with beta 1 integrin as well as most of the cell-surface beta 1 integrin was present in large detergent resistant complexes. These results suggest that serine protein kinase activity associated with the beta 1 integrin may play a role in signaling via the beta 1 integrin.

View full paper here

CD44 and beta1 integrin mediate ovarian carcinoma cell adhesion to peritoneal mesothelial cells.

Lessan K, Aguiar DJ, Oegema T, Siebenson L, Skubitz AP.

Abstract: Epithelial cancer of the ovary spreads by implantation of tumor cells onto the mesothelial cells lining the peritoneal cavity. The aim of this study was to identify the adhesion molecules involved in the interaction of ovarian carcinoma cells with mesothelial cells. The human ovarian carcinoma cell lines SKOV3 and NIH:OVCAR5 as well as LP9 cells, a human peritoneal mesothelial cell line, were analyzed by flow cytometry for the expression of CD44 and the beta1 integrin subunit. An in vitro adhesion assay was developed whereby LP9 cells were grown as confluent monolayers, and radiolabeled ovarian carcinoma cells were monitored for their ability to adhere to the mesothelial monolayer in the presence of potential inhibitors. Each cell line was evaluated for the presence of a pericellular matrix by a particle exclusion assay. A monoclonal antibody (MAb) against the beta1 integrin subunit significantly reduced the adhesion of SKOV3 cells to LP9 cells, whereas NIH:OVCAR5 adhesion to LP9 cells was significantly inhibited by a CD44 MAb. The LP9 cells produced both hyaluronic acid (a ligand for CD44) as well as several extracellular matrix molecules (ligands for the beta1 integrin heterodimers). These results suggest that both CD44 and the beta1 integrin heterodimers may play a role in mediating the adhesion of ovarian carcinoma cells to mesothelial cells.

View the full paper here

Establishmentcharacterization and downstream application of primary ovarian cancer cells derived from solid tumors.

Sueblinvong TGhebre RIizuka YPambuccian SEIsaksson Vogel RSkubitz APBazzaro M.

Abstract: Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of the gynecological diseases and the fifth cause of cancer death among American women. This is mainly due to the lack of prognostic tools capable of detecting early stages of ovarian cancer and to the high rate of resistance to the current chemotherapeutic regimens. In this scenario the overall 5-year survival rate for ovarian cancer patients diagnosed at late stage is less than 25%. Abnormalities associated with the malignant phenotype and the mechanisms of tumor progression are not clearly understood. In vitro studies are necessary, yet have been hampered due to the limitations accompanied with the use of ovarian cancer cell lines and the heterogeneity of the ovarian cancer cell population derived from ascites fluids. In this study we present a simple, rapid and reproducible method for the isolation and characterization of ovarian cancer cells from solid tumor tissue and show that enzymatic digestion for 30 minutes with dispase II results in the most effective recovery of viable epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) cells. The resulting cancer (EOC) cell preparations demonstrate a significant yield, high levels of viability and are fibroblast-free. They grow for up to six passages and retain the capacity of forming spheroids-like structures in agarose. In addition, they can be genetically manipulated and used for drug screening, thus rendering them highly suitable for downstream applications. Notably, isolation of ovarian cancer cells from solid specimens using this method has the advantage of allowing for isolation of cancer cells from early stages of ovarian cancer as well as obtaining cells from defined either primary and/or metastatic ovarian cancer sites. Thus, these cells are highly suitable for investigations aimed at understanding ovarian cancer.

Skubitz, A.P.N. (2001) Adhesion Molecules. In Ovarian Cancer volume (ed. M.S. Stack and D.A. Fishman) of Cancer Treatment and Research (S.T. Rosen, series editor) Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston, pp. 305-329

Spheroid Formation

Beta 1-integrins regulate the formation and adhesion of ovarian carcinoma multicellular spheroids.

Casey RCBurleson KMSkubitz KMPambuccian SEOegema TR JrRuff LESkubitz AP.

Abstract: Ovarian carcinoma multicellular spheroids are an in vitro model of micrometastasis whose adhesive abilities have not been elucidated. In this study, we identified adhesion molecules that mediate the formation of ovarian carcinoma spheroids and their subsequent adhesion to extracellular matrix proteins. The NIH:OVCAR5, but not the SKOV3, ovarian carcinoma cell line formed spheroids similar to multicellular aggregates isolated from patient ascitic fluid. NIH:OVCAR5 spheroid formation was augmented by a beta 1-integrin-stimulating monoclonal antibody or exogenous fibronectin, but was inhibited by blocking monoclonal antibodies against the alpha 5- or beta 1-integrin subunits. By immunohistochemical staining, alpha 2-, alpha 3-, alpha 5-, alpha 6-, and beta 1-integrin subunits, CD44, and fibronectin were detected in NIH:OVCAR5 spheroids. NIH:OVCAR5 spheroids adhered to fibronectin, laminin, and type IV collagen, and this adhesion was partially inhibited by blocking antibodies against the alpha 5-, alpha 6-, and alpha 2-integrin subunits, respectively. A blocking monoclonal antibody against the beta 1-integrin subunit completely inhibited adhesion of the spheroids to all three proteins. These results suggest that interactions between the alpha 5 beta 1-integrin and fibronectin mediate the formation of ovarian carcinoma spheroids and that their adhesion to extracellular matrix proteins at sites of secondary tumor growth may be mediated by a complex interaction between multiple integrins and their ligands.

View the full paper here.

Ovarian carcinoma ascites spheroids adhere to extracellular matrix components and mesothelial cell monolayers.

Burleson KMCasey RCSkubitz KMPambuccian SEOegema TR JrSkubitz AP.

OBJECTIVES: Ovarian carcinoma cells form multicellular aggregates, or spheroids, in the peritoneal cavity of patients with advanced disease. The current paradigm that ascites spheroids are non-adhesive leaves their contribution to ovarian carcinoma dissemination undefined. Here, spheroids obtained from ovarian carcinoma patients' ascites were characterized for their ability to adhere to molecules encountered in the peritoneal cavity, with the goal of establishing their potential to contribute to ovarian cancer spread.

METHODS: Spheroids were recovered from the ascites fluid of 11 patients with stage III or stage IV ovarian carcinoma. Adhesion assays to extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins and human mesothelial cell monolayers were performed for each of the ascites spheroid samples. Subsequently, inhibition assays were performed to identify the cell receptors involved.

RESULTS: Most ascites samples adhered moderately to fibronectin and type I collagen, with reduced adhesion to type IV collagen and laminin. Monoclonal antibodies against the beta1 integrin subunit partially inhibited this adhesion. Ascites spheroids also adhered to hyaluronan. Additionally, spheroids adhered to live, but not fixed, human mesothelial cell monolayers, and this adhesion was partially mediated by beta1 integrins.

CONCLUSIONS: The cellular content of the ascites fluid has often been considered non-adhesive, but our findings are the first to suggest that patient-derived ascites spheroids can adhere to mesothelial extracellular matrix via beta1 integrins, indicating that spheroids should not be ignored in the dissemination of ovarian cancer.

View the full paper here.

Ovarian carcinoma spheroids disaggregate on type I collagen and invade live human mesothelial cell monolayers.

Burleson KMHansen LKSkubitz AP.

Abstract: Ovarian carcinoma patients frequently develop malignant ascites containing single and aggregated tumor cells, or spheroidsSpheroids have been shown to be resistant to many therapies, but their contribution to ovarian cancer dissemination remains undetermined. We have previously shown that ascites spheroids adhere to extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins and live human mesothelial cells via beta1 integrin subunits. Here, we assessed the ability of spheroids that were generated from the human ovariancarcinoma cell line NIH:OVCAR5 to disseminate and invade in vitro. Spheroids were seeded on ECM proteins for 24 h. While laminin and type IV collagen stimulated some cell migration, spheroids completely disaggregated on type I collagen substrates. A monoclonal antibody against the beta1 integrin subunit significantly inhibited disaggregation on all proteins tested. To test their invasive ability, spheroids were added to monolayers of live human LP9 mesothelial cells. Within 24 h, the spheroids adhered and disaggregated on top of the monolayers, and within a week had established foci of invasion encompassing a 200-fold larger surface area. Addition of a monoclonal antibody against the beta1 integrin subunit drastically reduced spheroid invasion into the mesothelial cell monolayers. GM 6001, a broad-scale matrix metalloproteinase inhibitor, also significantly blocked spheroid invasion into the mesothelial cell monolayers. Epsilon-amino-N-caproic acid, a serine protease inhibitor, partially inhibited spheroid invasion. Based on their ability to attach to, disaggregate on, and invade into live human mesothelial cell monolayers, spheroids should thus be regarded as potential contributors to the dissemination of ovarian cancer.

View the full paper here.

Disaggregation and invasion of ovarian carcinoma ascites spheroids.

Burleson KMBoente MPPambuccian SESkubitz AP.

BACKGROUND: Malignant ascites often develops in advanced stages of ovarian carcinoma, consisting of single and aggregated tumor cells, or spheroids. Spheroids have commonly been used as tumor models to study drug efficacy, and have shown resistance to some chemotherapies and radiation. However, little is known about the adhesive or invasive capabilities of spheroids, and whether this particular cellular component of the ascites can contribute to dissemination of ovarian cancer. Here, we examined the invasive ability of ascites spheroids recovered from seven ovarian carcinoma patients and one primary peritoneal carcinoma (PPC) patient.

METHODS: Ascites spheroids were isolated from patients, purified, and immunohistochemical analyses were performed by a pathologist to confirm diagnosis. In vitro assays were designed to quantify spheroid disaggregation on a variety of extracellular matrices and dissemination on and invasion into normal human mesothelial cell monolayers. Cell proliferation and viability were determined in each assay, and statistical significance demonstrated by the student's t-test.

RESULTS: Spheroids from all of the patients' ascites samples disaggregated on extracellular matrix components, with the PPC spheroids capable of complete disaggregation on type I collagen. Additionally, all of the ascites spheroid samples adhered to and disaggregated on live human mesothelial cell monolayers, typically without invading them. However, the PPC ascites spheroids and one ovarian carcinoma ascites spheroid sample occasionally formed invasive foci in the mesothelial cell monolayers, suggestive of a more invasive phenotype.

CONCLUSION: We present here in vitro assays using ascites spheroids that imitate the spread of ovarian cancer in vivo. Our results suggest that systematic studies of the ascites cellular content are necessary to understand the biology of ovarian carcinoma.

View this paper here




Migration and Invasion

CD44 and beta1 integrins mediate ovarian carcinoma cell migration toward extracellular matrix proteins.

Casey RCSkubitz AP.

Abstract: Epithelial cancer of the ovary spreads by implantation of tumor cells onto the mesothelial cells that line the peritoneal cavity. The aim of this study was to identify the cell-matrix interactions that mediate ovarian carcinoma cell migration toward components of the mesothelial cell-associated extracellular matrix. The human ovarian carcinoma cell lines NIH:OVCAR5 and SKOV3 were analyzed by flow cytometry for the expression of cell surface receptors. The ability of those receptors to mediate ovarian carcinoma cell migrationtoward fibronectin, type IV collagen, and laminin was determined. A monoclonal antibody against the beta1 integrin subunit abrogated the migration of both cell lines toward the extracellular matrix proteins. Blocking antibodies against alpha integrin subunits suggest that ovarian carcinoma cell migration toward fibronectin is primarily mediated by the alpha5beta1 integrin, type IV collagen by the alpha2beta1 integrin, and laminin by the alpha6beta1 integrin. These results suggest that ovarian carcinoma cell migration is regulated by multiple beta1 integrin-matrix interactions. Significant reduction of cell migration was observed with a monoclonal antibody against CD44 that blocks the hyaluronan-binding site of CD44, but not with an antibody that binds at an alternate site on CD44. Intact hyaluronan and/or hyaluronan oligomers also inhibited cell migration, suggesting that the CD44-hyaluronan interaction provides an integrin-independent mechanism of control for ovarian carcinoma cell migration. These results suggest that ovariancarcinoma cell migration is regulated by both integrin-dependent mechanisms, involving the interaction of beta1 integrins with extracellular matrix proteins, and an integrin-independent mechanism that involves the interaction of CD44 and hyaluronan.

View the full paper here

Cell membrane glycosylation mediates the adhesionmigration, and invasion of ovarian carcinoma cells.

Casey RCOegema TR JrSkubitz KMPambuccian SEGrindle SMSkubitz AP.

Abstract: We have previously shown that ovarian carcinoma cell adhesion to mesothelial cell monolayers and migration toward fibronectin, type IV collagen, and laminin is partially mediated by CD44, a proteoglycan known to affect the functional abilities of tumor cells. The purpose of this study was to determine the role of cell membrane glycosylation in the metastatic abilities of ovarian carcinoma cells. NIH:OVCAR5 cells were treated with glycosidases to remove carbohydrate moieties from molecules on the cells' surface. The ability of the treated cells to adhere to extracellular matrix components or mesothelial cell monolayers, migrate toward extracellular matrix proteins, and invade through Matrigel was assessed. We observed that the loss of different carbohydrate moieties resulted in altered ovarian carcinoma cell adhesionmigration, and/or invasion toward extracellular matrix components or mesothelial cell monolayers. Gene array analysis of NIH:OVCAR5 cells revealed the expression of several proteoglycans, including syndecan 4, decorin, and perlecan. In tissue samples obtained from patients, altered proteoglycan gene expression was observed in primary ovarian carcinoma tumors and secondary metastases, compared to normal ovaries. Taken together, these results suggest that ovarian carcinoma cell proteoglycans affect the cells' ability to adhere, migrate, and invade toward extracellular matrix components and mesothelial cell monolayers. Thus, the carbohydrate modifications of several proteoglycans may mediate the formation and spread of secondary tumor growth in ovarian carcinoma.

View the full paper here

Establishment of an in vitro assay to measure the invasion of ovarian carcinoma cells through mesothelial cell monolayers.

Casey RCKoch KAOegema TR JrSkubitz KMPambuccian SEGrindle SMSkubitz AP.

Abstract: Ovarian carcinoma is the leading cause of gynecological cancer deaths in the United States. Secondary tumor growths form by tumor cell invasion through the mesothelial lining of the peritoneal cavity and peritoneal organs. To study this interaction, we developed a dye-based in vitro model system in which mesothelial cells were grown as confluent monolayers, permeabilized, and then co-cultured with ovarian carcinoma cells for up to seven days. The mesothelial cells were then stained with trypan blue dye, which enabled the visualization of ovarian carcinoma cell invasion through the monolayers of mesothelial cells. Ovarian carcinoma cell invasion was inhibited for up to 7 days by the addition of GRGDSP peptides, a blocking monoclonal antibody against the beta1 integrin subunit, or blocking monoclonal antibodies against matrix metalloproteinases 2 and 9. Cell invasion was also inhibited by hyaluronan and GM6001, a chemical inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinases. Differential gene expression of matrix metalloproteinases, tissue inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinases, and disintegrins were observed in primary ovarian carcinoma tumors and secondary metastases, compared to normal ovaries. Taken together, these results suggest that complex interactions between integrins, disintegrins, matrix metalloproteinases, and tissue inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinases may mediate ovarian carcinoma cell invasion, and that the dye-based assay described herein is a suitable model system for its study.

View the full paper here


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Facilities at UMN

Facilities at UMN

Research Funding Support

Research Funding Support

Funding for the OCEDP has been provided by:

National Institutes of Health / National Cancer Institute

Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs

Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance 

Cancurables Foundation

Charlene's Light 

University of Minnesota

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Contact the Director:

Amy P.N. Skubitz, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology
Adjunct Professor, Dept Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health
University of Minnesota
MMC 395
420 Delaware Street, S.E.
Minneapolis, MN  55455