Junctional adhesion molecule-A is co-expressed with HER2 in breast tumors and acts as a novel regulator of HER2 protein degradation and signaling.

Junctional adhesion molecule-A (JAM-A) is a membranous cell-cell adhesion protein involved in tight-junction formation in epithelial and endothelial cells. Its overexpression in breast tumors has recently been linked with increased risk of metastasis. We sought to identify if JAM-A overexpression was associated with specific subtypes of breast cancer as defined by the expression of human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2), estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor. To this end, JAM-A immunohistochemistry was performed in two breast cancer tissue microarrays. In parallel, cross-talk between JAM-A, HER2 and ER was examined in several breast cell lines, using complementary genetic and pharmacological approaches. High JAM-A expression correlated significantly with HER2 protein expression, ER negativity, lower patient age, high-grade breast cancers, and aggressive luminal B, HER2 and basal subtypes of breast cancer. JAM-A and HER2 were co-expressed at high levels in vitro in SKBR3, UACC-812, UACC-893 and MCF7-HER2 cells. Knockdown or functional antagonism of HER2 did not alter JAM-A expression in any cell line tested. Interestingly, however, JAM-A knockdown decreased HER2 and ER-α expression, resulting in reduced levels of phospho-(active) AKT without an effect on the extracellular signal-related kinase phosphorylation. The downstream effects of JAM-A knockdown on HER2 and phospho-AKT were partially reversed upon treatment with the proteasomal inhibitor MG132. We conclude that JAM-A is co-expressed with HER2 and associates with aggressive breast cancer phenotypes. Furthermore, we speculate that JAM-A may regulate HER2 proteasomal degradation and activity, potentially offering a promise as a therapeutic target in HER2-positive breast cancers.