Background: Matricellular glycoprotein, SPARC is a secreted molecule, that mediates the interaction between cells and extracellular matrix. SPARC functions as a regulator of matrix organization and modulates cell behavior. In various kinds of cancer, strong SPARC expression was observed in stromal tissues as well as in cancer epithelial cells. The function of SPARC in cancer cells is somewhat controversial and its impact on peritumoral stromal cells remains to be resolved. Methods: We investigated the effects of SPARC expression in endometrial cancer cells on the surrounding stromal fibroblasts using in vitro co-culture system. Changes in characteristics of fibroblasts were examined by analysis of fibroblast-specific markers and in vitro contraction assay. Results: SPARC induced AKT phosphorylation and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, consistent with previous reports. Cancer-associated fibroblasts of endometrial cancer expressed higher levels of mesenchymal- and fibroblast-associated factors and had a stronger contraction ability. Unexpectedly, cancer-associated fibroblasts expressed comparable levels of SPARC compared with fibroblasts from normal endometrium. However, co-culture of normal fibroblasts with SPARC-expressing Ishikawa cells resulted in activation of the fibroblasts. Immunodepletion of SPARC did not affect the activation of fibroblasts. Conclusions: Our data indicated that SPARC activated fibroblasts only in the presence of fibronectin, which was abundantly secreted from SPARC-expressing endometrial cancer cells. These results suggested that a SPARC-fibronectin-mediated activation of fibroblasts might be involved in enhanced mobility and invasion of cancer cells.
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