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Decreased expression of the β2 integrin on tumor cells is associated with a reduction in liver metastasis of colorectal cancer in mice
- Aitor Benedicto1,
- Joana Marquez1,
- Alba Herrero1,
- Elvira Olaso1,
- Elzbieta Kolaczkowska†2 and
- Beatriz Arteta†1Email authorView ORCID ID profile
© The Author(s). 2017
Received: 23 June 2016
Accepted: 22 November 2017
Published: 6 December 2017
Lymphocyte Function-Associated Antigen-1 (LFA-1; CD18/CD11a) is one of the main adhesion molecules used by immune cells to infiltrate the liver under inflammatory conditions. Recently, the expression of this integrin has also been reported on several solid tumors, including colorectal cancer. However, its functional role in the metastatic progression to the liver remains unknown. Using in vitro assays and an experimental orthotopic in vivo model of liver metastasis, we aimed to elucidate the role of tumor LFA-1 in the metastatic progression by means of the partial depletion of the β2 subunit of LFA-1, required for integrin activation, firm adhesion and signaling.
To do so, we evaluated the effects of β2 reduction on the murine colon carcinoma C26 cell line on their pro-metastatic features in vitro and their metastatic potential in vivo in a mouse model of colon carcinoma metastasis to the liver.
The reduction in β2 integrin expression correlated with a slower proliferation, and a reduced adhesion and migration of C26 cells in an in vitro setting. Additionally, tumor cells with a reduced in β2 integrin expression were unable to activate the liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSECs). This resulted in a recovery of the cytotoxic potential of liver lymphocytes which is compromised by LSECs activated by C26 cells. This was related to the abrogation of RNA expression of inflammatory and angiogenic cytokines by C26 cells after their activation with sICAM-1, the main ligand of β2αL. Furthermore, in vivo tumor cell retention and metastasis were profoundly reduced, along with a decrease in the recruitment and infiltration of myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) and lymphocytes to the liver.
Taken together, our findings uncovered the modulatory role for the tumor β2 subunit of the LFA-1 integrin in the metastatic progression of colorectal cancer to the liver by impairing activation of liver endothelium and thus, the local immune response in the liver. Besides, this integrin also showed to be critical in vivo for tumor cell retention, cytokine release, leukocyte recruitment and metastasis development. These data support a therapeutical potential of the integrin LFA-1 as a target for the treatment of colorectal liver metastasis.
Hepatic metastasis still remains as one of the most life-challenging aspects in the dissemination of cancer. The early retention of the tumor cells into a secondary organ, which leads to metastasis, might be due to the up-regulation in the expression of adhesion molecules and/or changes in their distribution [1, 2], enabling the adhesion and infiltration of metastasizing cancer cells in the target organ [1, 3]. In fact, the reciprocal interaction between liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSECs) and cancer cells through these adhesion molecules also triggers an acute inflammatory response [2, 4] which helps in the creation of a suitable microenvironment favoring the metastatic progression.
Lymphocyte Function Associated Antigen (LFA)-1 (CD11a/CD18 or αLβ2) is a heterodimeric protein of the integrin family expressed on the surface of nearly all leukocytes  and recently described on a variety of tumor cells [1, 6, 7] including colorectal cancer cells [8, 9]. LFA-1 is the main ligand for intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1 [10, 11] to which the integrin binds with the highest affinity. Even though recent studies have shown a relationship between LFA-1 expression and the metastatic progression , up to date the functional role of this integrin in the development of liver metastasis is poorly characterized.
The liver is the main organ colonized during the progression of colorectal cancer patients, where LSECs constitute the first barrier cancer cells encounter and adhere to when invading the liver, function facilitated by the broad repertoire of adhesion molecules expressed on their surface . Among others, the cell adhesion molecule ICAM-1 is constitutively expressed on LSECs and its expression is significantly increased during diverse inflammatory processes and at early stages of liver metastasis . Additionally, the operating mechanisms used by immune cells to adhere to the liver endothelium and to infiltrate the organ afterwards are unique. This process in the liver involves different steps than those ones reported in the classical rolling-adhesion-extravasation paradigm. In some inflammatory scenarios, the direct adhesion based on LFA-1/ICAM-1 interaction was observed . Interestingly, several solid cancers have shown a high expression of these two molecules including pancreatic cancer , and a decreased expression of LFA-1 on lymphoma cells has been correlated with a reduced invasion and metastases in vivo . In line with these reports, we showed previously that LFA-1 expression correlates with the production of angiogenic factors by C26 cells, such as VEGF , as well as with an increase in the development of metastatic foci in the liver .
In addition, the local immune response developed in the liver during tumor infiltration determines the survival of cancer cells. In this organ, liver sinusoidal lymphocytes (LSLs) comprise the main population of immune cells, and develop an immune response during metastatic colonization. However, we have previously reported that tumor-activated LSECs decreased the cytotoxic potential of these lymphocytes towards C26 cells in vitro, mediated by the activity of mannose receptor (ManR) expressed on LSECs . Furthermore, the previous stimulation of tumor cells with soluble ICAM-1 (sICAM-1) increased the activity of ManR on LSECs and further reduced the cytotoxic potential of LSLs once they have interacted with tumor activated LSECs . Moreover, either the ManR blockage on tumor-stimulated LSECs or the neutralization of ManR stimulating factors derived from sICAM-1 activated tumor cells, such as Interleukin (IL)-1β inducing factors and Cyclooxygenase (COX)-2-dependent factors, restored the cytotoxicity of LSLs towards the cancer cells after their interaction with tumor-activated LSECs .
All these data led us to hypothesize that colon carcinoma cells could mimic the paradigm of leukocyte recruitment to the liver by means of the LFA-1/ICAM-1 pathway. Here, we assessed the effect of the reduced expression of the β2 subunit of the LFA-1 integrin during tumor progression of C26 colon cancer cells to the liver. Herein, we demonstrate that a decrease in LFA-1 β2 subunit expression limits the retention and the migratory potential of tumor cells in the liver and reduces the recruitment of immune cells into the organ leading to a diminution in the metastatic progression. This might be related to the activation of an inflammatory microenvironment triggered by tumor LFA-1 with endothelial ICAM-1. Thus, our results demonstrate that the full expression of LFA-1 integrin expressed on the surface of tumor cells facilitates the formation of liver metastasis during C26 colon carcinoma progression by initially driving the pro-tumoral activation of LSECs, and inducing the infiltration of the liver by immune cells with regulatory functions. These results point out LFA-1 as a potential therapeutic target in the treatment of hepatic metastatic disease.
Eight weeks old male Balb/c mice were obtained from Charles River (Barcelona, Spain). Housing, care, and experimental conditions were carried out in conformity with institutional guidelines and national and international laws for experimental animal care. The animals were fed a standard chow and had access to water ad libitum. All the proceedings were approved by the Basque Country University Ethical Committee (CEID) in accordance with institutional, national and international guidelines regarding the protection and care of animals use for scientific purposes.
Cancer cell lines
All in vitro and in vivo experiments were conducted using the murine C26 colon adenocarcinoma (C26) cell line (also known as MCA-26, CT-26) syngenic with Balb/c mice and purchased from ATCC (LGC Standards S.L.U. Barcelona, Spain). The C26 cell line was genetically modified to partially deplete the expression of the β2 subunit of the LFA-1 receptor (named β2-C26) by Innoprot S.L. (Zamudio, Spain). The cDNA sequence corresponding to Itgb2, with accession number NM:008404, was introduced in the siDESIGNER CENT from Dharmacon (Lafayette, CO), and the sequences siItgb2–1: tcggaaggtgttggataa, siItgb2–2: ggtgaaaacgtatgagaaa, and si Itgb2–3: ctgcatgtccggaggaaat were selected. The three sequences were cloned in the vector containing pSUper-Purofor, a vector system for expresson of shRNA induction of Puromycin resistance (Oligoengine; WA, USA) to produce the corresponding shRNA. The pSuper-RNAi system provides a mammalian vector that directs intracellular synthesis of siRNA-like transcription. The resulting transcript of the recombinant vector is a predicted shRNA. The transcript is quickly cleaved to produce a functional siRNA. After 48 h transfection with 1 μg of each plasmid containing the sequence to obtain either of each shRNA, the tumor cells were cultured in the presence of puromycin (10 μg/ml) to obtain isolated clones. In some experiments a pool of the transfected cells were used. After 2–3 weeks of culture in the presence of puromycin 24 clones/shRNA tested were selected. Then, those clones were amplified and the six with lower expression were selected for stable lines generation. When the amount of 1,2 × 106 cells was obtained, a RNA amplification for β2 integrin allowed the selection of the clone with the lower β2 expression for experimentation. The primers used for amplification were Itgb2 F: ATGTGGGCCCACACTCACTGC and Itgb2 R: TTAACAAAAGGCAGCACCGT. The clone was cultured under standard conditions in RPM-1640 supplemented with 10% heat-inactivated fetal bovine serum (FBS), penicillin (10,000 U/ml), streptomycin (10.000 μg/ml) and amphotericin B (25 μg/ml) supplemented with 10 μg/ml Puromycin.
Culture of primary LSEC
The isolation and culture of mouse LSECs have been described elsewhere [4, 16]. Purified LSECs were cultured on 1 mg/ml collagen type I from rat tail – 0′25 ml/cm2− (Sigma-Aldrich, St. Louis, MO, USA) coated tissue culture plates at a concentration of 3′5 × 105 cell/cm2 in RPMI-1640 supplemented with 5% FBS, antibiotics and antimycotics. LSECs were incubated at 37 °C, 5% CO2 for at least 2 h before experimental procedures. Cultures of LSEC were pre-activated for 16 h with β2-C26 cells or C26 cells prior to different analyses.
Cancer cell adhesion assay
Either C26 or β2-C26 cells previously labeled with 25 μM CFSE (Life Technologies Inc.; MD, USA) at 37 °C were added to LSECs cultures or collagen type I coated wells at a concentration of 2 × 105 cells/ml. In additional experiments β2-C26 pool, or β2-neutralizing antibody (1 μg/106 cells; BD Pharmingen, Madrid, Spain) pretreated C26 were also added to collagen type I coated wells. After an incubation of 30 min, total fluorescence was measured by using Ascent Fluoroskan (Labsystems S.A.C., MA, USA). Then, fluorescence emitted by adhered cells was measured after an extensive washing with culture medium to remove non adherent cells. The percentage of tumor cell adhesion was calculated after background subtraction as follows:
% adhesion = (fluorescence emitted by adhered cells × 100)/ total fluorescence.
In some experiments, tumor cells were treated with blocking antibodies against CD11a (Clone M17/4) after tumor cell activation with sICAM-1 before their addition to LSECs culture. In others, tumor cells were pre-treated with antibodies against CD11b (Clone EPR1344) and polyclonal CD11b/c, and LSECs were pre-treated with blocking antibodies against CD106 (VCAM-1) Clone 429, at a concentration of 1 μg/ml for 45 min, prior to the addition of the tumor cells.
Migration and transendothelial migration assay
The migration assay was carried out on a modified Boyden chambers. Briefly, either C26, β2-C26 cells, β2-C26 pool, or β2-neutralizing antibody (1 μg/106 cells; BD Pharmingen, Madrid, Spain) pretreated cells were seeded onto type I collagen (1 mg/ml) -coated 8 μm-diameter pore Transwell inserts (Greiner Bio-one, Germany) and a total of 2 × 104 tumor cells in 100 μl of cell culture medium supplemented with 1% FBS and antibiotics were added to the upper chamber. In some experiments, tumor cells were allowed to adhere and expand before addition of sICAM-1 (200 ng/ml) (Life Technologies Inc). Then, they were allowed to migrate for 18 h before processing and quantification. For transendothelial migration, 2 × 105 LSECs were seeded and allowed to adhere and spread for 2 h before tumor cell addition. Then, C26, β2-C26 cells were allowed to migrate and transmigrate for 42 h, respectively, and quantified after 4% formalin fixation and crystal violet staining (Sigma-Aldrich). Data are expressed relative to the number of parental C26 cells migrated under basal conditions, in both migration and transmigration studies.
PrestoBlue Cell Viability Reagent® (Life Technologies Inc.) was used for quantification of viable tumor cells following manufacturer instructions. After 3 h (time 0) and 48 h of culture, C26 cells and β2-C26 cells viability was measured by adding Presto blue reagent for 90 min. Absorbance was measure with the Ascent Multiskan (Labsystems). Increase in cell viability after 48 h were compared with the cell viability at time 0.
Analysis of cell cycle and number of cell divisions
A quantity of 5 × 105 C26 or β2-C26 cells were collected and washed with PBS. After fixation in 2% formaldehyde containing PBS, the cells were resuspended in 500 μl of FxCycle™ PI/RNAse Solution (Life Technologies Inc.) and incubated for 30 min. Then, differences in PI labeling were assessed by FACS (EPICS S Elite, Beckman Coulter, Brea, CA, USA) and analyzed using the Weasel free software (WEHi, Parkville, VIC, Australia) with a specific cell cycle protocol. For quantification of n° of cell divisions, tumor cells were labeled with CFSE. Non divided cells were represented by those fixed before culturing. The remaining cells were re-suspended to 5 × 105 cells, and cultured for 48 h. Cells were then collected and fixed and total emitted florescence was measured by FACS and analyzed by Weasel free with a specific CFSE protocol. The fluorescence emitted by these cells, fixed at time 0, is considered to be the maximal amount of fluorescence measured in the assay and represents those cells which have not suffered any division. Thus, the number of cell cycles can be quantified by a decrease in the fluorescence emitted by a group of cells at a specific time point.
Endocytosis and antigen processing assay
ManR activity was measured by LSEC incubation with FITC-labeled mannan (10 μg/ml) (Sigma-Aldrich, IL, USA) for 2 h. The mannan uptake was quantified by Ascent Fluoroskan (Labsystems) and expressed as the percentage of internalized mannan respective to total added amount. Next, processing of DQ-ovalbumin (Life Technologies Inc.) was measured by 30 min incubation of LSECs with the ligand. After excess of DQ-ovalbumin was removed, its processing was quantified as the increase of fluorescence respective to the Initial one.
Real time-PCR analysis
Cell lysates of C26 and β2-C26 cells were obtained after their previous stimulation with sICAM-1. Total RNA was extracted using PureLink® RNA Mini kit (Life Technologies Inc.), according to the manufacturer’s instructions. RNAse-free DNase I was used to prevent DNA contamination. RNA concentration was assessed by absorbance at 260 nm using a NANO DROP spectrophotometer (ND-1000, Thermo Scientific, Rockford, IL), and the purity of the samples was estimated by the OD ratios (A260/A280, ranging within 1.8ROP2). Reverse transcription (RT) was performed in a 20 ml reaction volume with 2 lg of total RNA treated with 25 mM MgCl2, PCR buffer 103, 100 mM dithiothreitol (DTT), 0.5 ll of Oligo(dt16), 50 U multiscribe reverse transcriptase, 40 U RNase inhibitor and 40 mM dNTP to synthesize first-strand cDNA. Reaction system was incubated at 25 °C for 10 min (primer annealing), 42 °C for 15 min (synthesis) and final temperature of 4 °C, and resulting cDNA was stored at 220 °C. The resulting cDNA was subjected to RT-qPCR for the evaluation of the relative expression levels of b-actin (as an internal control). Gene-specific amplification was performed using ABI 7900HT, a RT-qPCR machine (Life technologies, Grand Island, NY) that measures binding of SYBR Green I to double- stranded DNA. Each sample was tested with a no template control for each pair of oligonucleotide primers to control contamination or primer dimer. Each experiment was repeated at least three times using cDNA samples from separate RT reactions. The reactions were performed in a total volume of 10 ll that contained the following: 35 ng cDNA that was synthesized as described above, 5 ll of SYBR Green master mix (Life technologies) and 200 nM of each pair of oligonucleotide primers. The amplification was performed as follows: an initial step at 95 °C for 10 min, followed by 45 cycles of 95 °C for 30 s and 60 °C for 60 s. Regression curves were calculated for each sample, and the amplified sample were calculated for each from the threshold cycles using the instrument. The following primers for RT-PCR analyses were used:
Itgb2: forward 5′-ATGTGGGCCCACACTCACTGC-3′ and reverse 5′-TTAACAAAAGGCAGCACCGT3′;
VEGF: forward 5′-TGTACCTCCACCATGCCAAG-3′, reverse 5′-ACTTGATCACTTCATGGGACTTCT-′3′;
COX-2: forward 5′-TGCACTATGGTTACAAAAGCTGG-3′; reverse 5′-TCAGGAAGCTCCTTATTTCCCTT-3′.
LSLs isolation and tumor cytotoxicity assay
LSLs were obtained by means of liver perfusion with PBS-0.1 mM EDTA and Lympholite M (Cederlane, Canada) gradient centrifugation as previously described . For assessment of cytotoxic activity of LSLs towards C26 cells, lymphocytes were allowed to interact with activated and not activated LSECs for 24 h. The activation of LSECs was induced by incubation with either C26 cells or β2-C26 cells. Then, LSLs were collected and added to target tumor cells at a ratio of 5:1 effector/target cells. After 24 h of co-incubation, tumor cell viability was estimated by the Presto Blue assay (Life Technologies Inc.). Data were expressed as 100- % C26 viability respective to untreated cells.
Early retention of cancer cells in the liver and experimental development of hepatic metastasis
For tumor cell retention and hepatic metastasis, 2 × 105 of either C26 cells or β2-C26 cells were intrasplenically (i.s.) injected into anesthetized mice as previously described . For retention studies, tumor cells were firstly labeled with CFSE as described above, and mice euthanized 24 h later. Livers were removed and embedded in OCT (Tissue-Tek®, The Netherlands) and frozen in dry-ice. For hepatic metastasis, mice were inoculated with C26 cells, β2-C26 cells, β2-C26 pool cells or neutralizing β2-antibody pre-treated C26 cells injected i.s. into anesthetized mice. Then, mice were sacrificed 14 days after tumor cell inoculation, livers were collected, fixed in zinc-fixative solution (Sigma-Aldrich, MO, USA) and paraffin embedded for histological analyses after H&E staining or embedded in OCT and frozen in dry-ice for fluorescence immunohistochemical studies. Tumor occupied area was quantified in three10 μm thick sections per liver, separated by 500 μm from each other. The total tumor burden was calculated as the sum of the area of each of the metastatic foci in 100 mm2 of liver section. Additionally, the number of foci within a specific size range was also calculated. At least 5 mice per group were used per each experiment and each one was performed 3 times for those experiments using the partially silenced clone and 4 mice for those experiments using the pool of partially depleted cells and cells pre-treated with anti β2 integrin antibody.
Frozen liver sections were analyzed for the quantification of different immune cell populations, 24 h and 14 days after the tumor cell injection. The quantification of CD4+, CD8 + , CD11b+ and Ly6G+ (Gr1+) cell numbers was carried out in 3 different sections per mice, and At least 5 mice per group were used per each experiment and each one was performed 3 times. Anti-CD4 monoclonal antibody (Life Technologies, Inc.), anti-CD8 monoclonal antibody and anti-CD11b (both from Abcam; Cambridge, UK), and anti-Ly6G antibody (Novus Biologicals; CO, USA) were used. After blocking and incubation with specific primary antibodies, surface molecules were detected by the use of secondary antibodies conjugated either with Alexa-488 or Alexa-594.
Data are expressed as mean ± standard deviation (SD) of three independent experiments. Statistical analysis was performed using SPSS version 13.0 (Professional statistic, IL, USA). Individual comparisons were performed using two-tailed, unpaired Student t test. Differences were considered to be significant for *p < 0.05 and **p < 0.01.
Reduced expression of β2 integrin in transfected C26 cells
Reduced activity of β2 integrin on tumor cells decreases the metastatic development in the liver
Reduced expression of tumor β2 integrin decreases tumor cell adhesion in vitro
Partial deficiency in β2 integrin reduces cancer cell migration through LSEC monolayers and collagen
Partial deficiency on β2 integrin reduces proliferation in C26 cells
Tumor LFA-1 mediates ManR activation on LSEC
LSLs cytotoxic activity towards C26 is down-modulated by LSECs stimulated with by β2-C26
To evaluate the effects of tumor activated LSECs on the cytotoxic activity of LSLs towards C26 cells, LSLs were co-cultured with LSECs previously activated by cocultivation with either C26 or β2-C26 tumor cells. Then, LSLs were collected and transferred to C26 cultures and their cytotoxicity towards tumor cells was assessed. As shown in Fig. 6d, the contact of LSLs with resting LSECs increased their cytotoxic activity towards C26 cells, however, this cytotoxicity was reduced when LSLs were in contact with LSECs previously activated by C26 cells. On the contrary, the cytotoxic potential of LSLs towards tumor cells was recovered when LSECs were activated with β2-C26 cells (Fig. 6d).
Decreased expression of tumor LFA-1 impairs early retention of cancer cells in the liver
Decreased expression of tumor β2 integrin correlates with a reduced recruitment of immune cells at early stages of metastasis
Diminished expression of tumor β2 is related to a reduced infiltration of immune cell at late stages of metastatic progression
Moreover, while the numbers of the CD4+cell subset remained unchanged in the peritumoral areas surrounding the tumor foci, CD4+ T cell counts increased within the tumor foci (intra-tumoral) developed in the liver collected from mice inoculated with C26 cells but not in those tumors observed within the livers of mice bearing β2-C26 cells (Fig. 9b and Additional file 4). Interestingly, the numbers of CD4+ T cells in the peritumoral tissue of livers collected in late stages of tumor progression (Fig. 9b) were not increased when compared to those present in the early stages of liver metastasis when tumor cells are being retained in the liver (Fig. 8c). Regarding to the quantification of CD8+ T cells, a decrease in their numbers in those tumor foci developed in mice inoculated with β2-C26 cells was reported (Fig. 9c and Additional file 5). In contrast to the observation made in regard to CD4+ T cell count in peritumoral areas, CD8+ T cells count did diminished in regions surrounding the tumor foci within livers inoculated with β2-C26 cells.
Expression of LFA-1 (αLβ2) on lymphoid  and myeloid  tumor cells was demonstrated in the past, and more recently also on solid tumors such as colorectal cancer [4, 12]. However, the relevance of β2 integrin expression to metastatic spread of the latter tumors and the mechanisms by which this integrin might act through in the tumor microenvironment remain very poorly characterized. Using a stably modified murine colon carcinoma C26 cell line with a reduced expression of β2 (CD18) integrin (β2-C26 cells), we show that the reduction in functional LFA-1 decreases the metastatic development and tumor foci size when inoculated i.s. in mice. The β2 subunit of the integrin is needed for LFA-1 (CD11a/CD18) activity. Therefore, we aimed to investigate which processes leading to formation of metastasis were affected by a partial deficiency in β2 integrin. We detected that the reduction in tumor generation in vivo, observed in mice injected with β2-C26 cells, was accompanied by a decrease in tumor cell adhesion in vitro and a reduced retention of tumor cells in the hepatic sinusoids in vivo. This uncovers an important role of tumor LFA-1 in the modulation of the metastatic progression of colorectal tumor cells to the liver. Interestingly, the adhesion of C26 cells to LSEC was affected only by β2 partial deficiency or by anti-CD11a neutralization, but not by tumor CD11b/c nor VCAM-1 blockade on LSECs, a ligand for the integrin CD49d (α4β1), confirming a role for LFA-1 on tumor metastasis development of colorectal cancer to the liver.
The adhesion of tumor cells to the endothelium must be followed by the process of diapedesis across endothelial cells [6, 7, 14], in order to invade parenchyma and avoid cell death by anoikis . After adhesion, the transmigration of tumor cells across the endothelial layer might be mediated by LFA1/ICAM-1 interaction since the cells partially depleted in β2-integrin showed an impaired capacity of trans-endothelial migration. The involvement of these adhesion molecules has been also observed in the transmigration of monocytes  and melanoma cells  through the endothelium. In fact, stimulation of C26 cells with sCAM-1 increased their migratory potential. The process might be promoted by the contribution of ICAM-1/LFA-1 interaction to the endothelial cell-cell separation . Later on, tumor cells must interact with the extracellular matrix and migrate through a pathway mediated by direct contact of C26 cells with proteins which comprise this matrix [22, 23]. The reduced adhesion to and migration across collagen type I by β2-C26, observed in these studies, is in line with other reports linking this integrin to adhesion  and transmigration of leukocytes through endothelial cell layers . Garnotel et al.  showed that type I collagen induced the phosphorylation of both αL and β2 subunits of LFA-1 and that the activation of protein kinase C as well as the stimulation of superoxide production by polymorphonuclear neutrophils, which was abolished by the use of neutralizing antibodies . Moreover, after activation the αLI domain favors collagen type I, the main protein of the extracellular matrix in the tumor stroma, when compared to collagen type IV . Even though, other integrins such as β1 might be related to the activity of β2 integrin, we ruled out the participation in the adhesion observed in β2-C26 since neutralizing antibodies against β1 integrins could to abrogate C26 cell adhesion nor induce a higher degree of reduction in the adhesion of β2-C26 cells to collagen type I. In fact, the engagement of β2 integrins is involved in polymorphonuclear neutrophils adhesion and extravasation by maintaining an active crosstalk with β1 integrin .
Additionally to their role as receptors for components of the extracellular matrix, integrins also regulate various cellular responses such as proliferation and loss of adhesion [26, 28]. The influence of integrins in this pathway has also been reported in a model of multiple myeloma . Here, we show that the reduction in β2 expression, linked to the LFA-1 activity, impaired tumor cell proliferation when cultured on collagen type I. Also, these cells showed a slightly slow-down in cell division. Schmidmaier et al.  observed that while the in vivo progression of the tumor in a myeloma model was related to high rate of proliferation of LFA-1 positive tumor cells, they only detected a slight variation, although not significant, in the levels of several cyclins . However, they observed a decrease in the survival of cells treated with an LFA-1 inhibitor which might be induced by an increase in p53 and p21. In agreement with these reports, we could detect a higher number of β2-C26 cells in sub G1. It is noteworthy that LFA-1 activation with sICAM-1 stimulates the activity of COX-2 and the increase in PGE2 production by C26 tumor cells (Arteta et al., personal communication). The increase in COX-2 activity in gastric adenocarcinoma has been related to bcl-2 expression and an increase in cell survival . Indeed, NS298 and celecoxib, selective cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors, induce apoptosis by a decrease in the activity of anti-apoptotic molecule bcl-2 in LNCaP cells  and Akt  in human prostate cells.
In previous studies, we reported that the ligation of LFA-1 expressed on tumor cells with endothelial ICAM-1 induced the production of ManR-stimulating factors from C26 cells, including IL-1, VEGF and sICAM-1 [4, 12], mediated by the activity of COX-2 in tumor cells. This up-regulation of ManR activity on LSECs was related to the inhibition of the cytotoxic activity of LSLs against the tumor after their interaction with tumor activated LSECs . We found that β2-C26 cells were unable to increase the activity of this endothelial receptor and, as a result, the cytotoxic potential of LSLs towards tumor cells in vitro was not diminished. It is interesting to note that, while sICAM-1 stimulation of C26 cells induced the production of ManR stimulating factors, this was abolished by pre-treatment of tumor cells with either LFA-1 neutralizing antibodies or the COX-2 inhibitor celecoxib (Arteta et al., personal communication). During the immune response mounted to fight the tumor cells, different subpopulations of immune cells are recruited to the organ to be colonized. Among them, CD11b+ Ly6G+ cells, a subset of myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) , are recruited from the circulation to the liver attracted by an array of soluble factors derived from the liver tumor microenvironment . The recruitment of CD11b+ Ly6G+ cells (granulocytic-MDSCs) in vivo was decreased in the liver of β2-C26 bearing mice. These cells are known to compromise antitumor immune surveillance especially in cancer [36, 37], preventing tumor escape from the immune system. Therefore, the reduced recruitment of different immune cell subsets found in β2-C26 bearing mice might additionally account for the impaired metastatic foci formation. However, if the reduced number of CD11b+ Ly6G+ is directly linked to the partial depletion of β2 subunit on tumor cells or to the disability of these cells to induce production of chemoattractants by other cell types needs further attention. Among others, hepatic stellate cells produce chemokines which attract CD11b+ Ly6G+ cells to the liver . Additionally, hepatic stellate cells are activated within the tumor microenvironment by C26 cells activated by sICAM-1 (Arteta et al., personal communication) which might be a pathway modulated, as well, by the expression of β2 integrin on tumor cells. Some reports suggest that CD11b+ Ly6G+ might accumulate in the liver due to tumor-derived inflammatory factors such as PGE2 of COX-2 origin , VEGF  and IL-1β , released by LSECs after interacting with tumor cells via LFA-1/ICAM-1 [4, 12]. Taking this into account, we confirmed a significantly down-regulated expression of VEGF and COX-2 genes in β2-C26 cells after sICAM-1 activation, pointing their products as regulators of MDSC recruitment . In contrast to the early phase, the CD11b+ Ly6G+ numbers increased with tumor progression in both C26 and β2-C26 bearing mice livers. However, this increase was significantly lower in β2-C26 injected mice. CD11b+ Ly6G+ were shown to block antitumor immunity by suppressing CD4+ and CD8+ T cells and inducing T regulatory cells . Even though our in vitro studies show a significant impact on the LSLs cytotoxic activity which was related to the reduced expression of β2 on C26 cells, we could not detect any marker (e.g. foxp3) expressed by regulatory T cells in vivo. However, we did observe a decrease in CD4+ T cell counts at late, but not early, stages of the metastatic development. The decrease in the inflammatory soluble factors and adhesion molecule expression, together with the decrease in tumor cell number, may explain the reduced immune cell counts; and overall, the lack of a welcoming milieu for the invasion of the liver by cancer cells when functional LFA-1 is lacking due to the reduced expression the its β2 subunit. As mentioned before, the liver tumor microenvironment is a complex network of cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions in the presence of multiple soluble factors produced by the stromal, immune and tumor cells, being any of them a possible candidate to modulate the local immune response in the liver.
In summary, our data shows that β2 expression on C26 cells mediates important processes involved in tumor progression, such as adhesion and migration, but also the viability of cancer cells, and the regulation of the associated local immune response. This likely involves a diminished cytotoxic response of LSLs, mediated by endothelial ManR, whose activity, in turn, depends on the interaction of ICAM-1 on LSEC with the tumor β2 integrin. This fact, together with the decreased production of pro-inflammatory factors and the down-regulated expression of suitable adhesion molecules, might account for the development of a tumor microenvironment which impairs the immune surveillance and promotes tumor progression. Therefore our findings indicate that blockage of LFA-1 on colon cancer cells might constitute a potential target for developing new therapeutical drugs for cancer treatment.
We thank Evangelina Garcia and Maria Jesus Fernandez for the excellent technical assistance. Additionally, we greatly appreciate the support of the Genomics and Proteomics Unit, the Animal Facilities and the Analytical and High-Resolution Microscopy Unit from the Advance Research Facilities (SGIker) of the University of Basque Country.
This study was financially supported in part by a pre-doctoral grant from the University of the Basque Country to A.B. and by funds from the Basque Government-Saiotek to B.A.
Availability of data and materials
The datasets supporting the conclusions of this article are included within the article and the additional information.
AB and BA made major contribution to conception, design, acquisition, analysis and interpretation of data, and have been the major contributors in writing, drafting and revising the manuscript. JM, AH and EO have participated sufficiently in the work to take public responsibility for appropriated portions of the content. EK has been involved in drafting and revising critically for the content of the research article. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
All the animal proceedings were approved by the Basque Country University Ethical Committee (CEID) in accordance with institutional, national and international guidelines regarding the protection and care of animals use for scientific purposes.
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