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Inhibition of Oesophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma Progression by in vivo Targeting of Hyaluronan Synthesis

Sören Twarock1, Till Freudenberger1, Eva Poscher1, Guang Dai1, Katharina Jannasch2, Christian Dullin2, Frauke Alves2, Klaus Prenzel3, Wolfram T Knoefel4, Nikolas H Stoecklein4, Rashmin C Savani5, Bernhard Homey6 and Jens W Fischer1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institut für Pharmakologie und Klinische Pharmakologie, Universitätsklinikum Düsseldorf, Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany

2 Abteilung Hämatologie/Onkologie, Zentrum Innere Medizin, Universitätsklinikum Göttingen, 37075 Göttingen, Germany

3 Klinik für Visceral- und Gefäßchirurgie der Universität zu Köln, 50937 Köln, Germany

4 Klinik für Allgemein-, Viszeral- und Kinderchirurgie, Universitätsklinikum Düsseldorf, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany

5 Divisions of Pulmonary & Vascular Biology and Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 75390 Dallas, Texas, USA

6 Hautklinik, Universitätsklinikum Düsseldorf, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany

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Molecular Cancer 2011, 10:30  doi:10.1186/1476-4598-10-30

Published: 23 March 2011



Oesophageal cancer is a highly aggressive tumour entity with at present poor prognosis. Therefore, novel treatment options are urgently needed. Hyaluronan (HA) is a polysaccharide present in the matrix of human oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). Importantly, in vitro ESCC cells critically depend on HA synthesis to maintain the proliferative phenotype. The aim of the present study is (1) to study HA-synthase (HAS) expression and regulation in human ESCC, and (2) to translate the in vitro results into a mouse xenograft model of human ESCC to study the effects of systemic versus tumour targeted HAS inhibition on proliferation and distribution of tumour-bound and stromal hyaluronan.


mRNA expression was investigated in human ESCC biopsies by semiquantitative real-time RT PCR. Furthermore, human ESCC were xenografted into NMRI nu/nu mice. The effects on tumour progression and morphology of 4-methylumbelliferone (4-MU), an inhibitor of HA-synthesis, and of lentiviral knock down of HA-synthase 3 (HAS3), the main HAS isoform in the human ESCC tissues and the human ESCC cell line used in this study, were determined. Tumour progression was monitored by calliper measurements and by flat-panel detector volume computed tomography (fpVCT). HA content, cellular composition and proliferation (Ki67) were determined histologically.


mRNA of HAS isoform 3 (HAS3) was upregulated in human ESCC biopsies and HAS3 mRNA was positively correlated to expression of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor. EGF was also proven to be a strong inductor of HAS3 mRNA expression in vitro. During the course of seven weeks, 4-MU inhibited progression of xenograft tumours. Interestingly, remodelling of the tumour into a more differentiated phenotype and inhibition of cell proliferation were observed. Lentiviral knockdown of HAS3 in human ESCC cells prior to xenografting mimicked all effects of 4-MU treatment suggesting that hyaluronan produced by ESCC is accountable for major changes in tumour environment in vivo.


Systemic inhibition of HA-synthesis and knockdown of tumour cell HAS3 cause decreased ESCC progression accompanied by tumour stroma remodelling and may therefore be used in novel approaches to ESCC therapy.