BACKGROUND: Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a malignant soft tissue sarcoma of childhood including two major histological subtypes, alveolar (ARMS) and embryonal (ERMS) RMS. Like other human malignancies RMS possesses high metastatic potential, more pronounced in ARMS than in ERMS. This feature is influenced by several biological molecules, including soluble factors secreted by tumor cells, such as heparanase (HPSE). HPSE is an endo-beta-D-glucuronidase that cleaves heparan sulphate proteoglycans. METHODS: We determined HPSE expression by Western blot analysis in ARMS and ERMS cells lines and activity in supernatants by an ELISA assay. Stable HPSE silencing has been performed by shRNA technique in RH30 and RD cell lines and their invasiveness has been evaluated by Matrigel-invasion assay. HPSE activity and mRNA expression have also been quantified in plasma and biopsies from RMS patients. RESULTS: HPSE expression and activity have been detected in all RMS cell lines. Stable HPSE silencing by shRNA technique determined a significant knockdown of gene expression equal to 76% and 58% in RH30 and RD cell lines respectively and induced a less invasive behaviour compared to untreated cells. Finally, we observed that HPSE mRNA expression in biopsies was higher than in foetal skeletal muscle and that plasma from RMS patients displayed significantly more elevated HPSE levels than healthy subjects with a trend to higher levels in ARMS. CONCLUSION: In conclusion, our data demonstrate for the first time HPSE expression and activity in RMS and highlight its involvement in tumor cell invasion as revealed by shRNA silencing. Moreover, HPSE expression in RMS patients is significantly higher with respect to healthy subjects. Further studies are warranted to assess possible relationships between HPSE and clinical behaviour in RMS.
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