The Journal of pathology
Neutrophil extracellular traps drive epithelial‐mesenchymal transition of human colon cancer
Stehr, A. M., Wang, G., Demmler, R., Stemmler, M. P., Straube, J., Tripal, P., ... & Stürzl, M.
colorectal neoplasms, extracellular traps, neutrophils, migration, epithelial-mesenchymal transition
Neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) are extracellular structures, composed of nuclear DNA and various proteins released from neutrophils. Evidence is growing that NETs exert manifold functions in infection, immunity, and cancer. Recently, NETs have been detected in colorectal cancer (CRC) tissues but their association with disease progression and putative functional impact on tumourigenesis remained elusive. Using high-resolution stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy we showed that citrullinated histone H3 (H3cit) is sufficient to specifically detect citrullinated NETs in colon cancer tissues. Among other evidence this was supported by the close association of H3cit with de-condensed extracellular DNA, the hallmark of NETs. Extracellular DNA was reliably differentiated from nuclear condensed DNA by staining with an anti-DNA-antibody providing a novel and valuable tool to detect NETs in FFPE tissues. Using these markers, the clinical association of NETs has been investigated in a cohort of 85 patients with colon cancer. NETs were frequently detected (n = 37/n = 85, 44%) in colon cancer tissue sections and preferentially localized either only in the tumour centre or both, in the tumour centre and the invasive front. Of note, citrullinated NETs were significantly associated with high histopathologic tumour grades and lymph node metastasis. In vitro, purified NETs induced filopodia formation and cell motility in CRC cell lines. This was associated with increased expression of mesenchymal marker mRNAs (vimentin [VIM], fibronectin [FN1]) and epithelial- mesenchymal transition (EMT) promoting transcription factors (ZEB1 and Slug [SNAI2]) as well as decreased expression of the epithelial markers E-cadherin (CDH1) and EpCAM (EPCAM). These findings indicated that NETs activate an EMT-like process in CRC cells and may contribute to the metastatic progression of CRC.