Tight junctions: a barrier to the initiation and progression of breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a complex and heterogeneous disease that arises from epithelial cells lining the breast ducts and lobules. Correct adhesion between adjacent epithelial cells is important in determining the normal structure and function of epithelial tissues, and there is accumulating evidence that dysregulated cell-cell adhesion is associated with many cancers. This review will focus on one cell-cell adhesion complex, the tight junction (TJ), and summarize recent evidence that TJs may participate in breast cancer development or progression. We will first outline the protein composition of TJs and discuss the functions of the TJ complex. Secondly we will examine how alterations in these functions might facilitate breast cancer initiation or progression; by focussing on the regulatory influence of TJs on cell polarity, cell fate and cell migration. Finally we will outline how pharmacological targeting of TJ proteins may be useful in limiting breast cancer progression. Overall we hope to illustrate that the relationship between TJ alterations and breast cancer is a complex one; but that this area offers promise in uncovering fundamental mechanisms linked to breast cancer progression.