Loss of epithelial polarity is described as a hallmark of epithelial cancer. To determine the role of Hugl1 and Hugl2 expression in the breast, we investigated their localization in human mammary duct tissue and the effects of expression modulation in normal and cancer cell lines on polarity, proliferation and differentiation. Expression of Hugl1 and Hugl2 was silenced in both MCF10A cells and Human Mammary Epithelial Cells and cell lines were grown in 2-D on plastic and in 3-D in Matrigel to form acini. Cells in monolayer were compared for proliferative and phenotypic changes while acini were examined for differences in size, ability to form a hollow lumen, nuclear size and shape, and localization of key domain-specific proteins as a measure of polarity. We detected overlapping but distinct localization of Hugl1 and Hugl2 in the human mammary gland, with Hugl1 expressed in both luminal and myoepithelium and Hugl2 largely restricted to myoepithelium. On a plastic surface, loss of Hugl1 or Hugl2 in normal epithelium induced a mesenchymal phenotype, and these cells formed large cellular masses when grown in Matrigel. In addition, loss of Hugl1 or Hugl2 expression in MCF10A cells resulted in increased proliferation on Matrigel, while gain of Hugl1 expression in tumor cells suppressed proliferation. Loss of polarity was also observed with knockdown of either Hugl1 or Hugl2, with cells growing in Matrigel appearing as a multilayered epithelium, with randomly oriented Golgi and multiple enlarged nuclei. Furthermore, Hugl1 knock down resulted in a loss of membrane identity and the development of cellular asymmetries in Human Mammary Epithelial Cells. Overall, these data demonstrate an essential role for both Hugl1 and Hugl2 in the maintenance of breast epithelial polarity and differentiated cell morphology, as well as growth control.
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