Branching morphogenesis in the mammary gland is achieved by the migration of epithelial cells through a microenvironment consisting of stromal cells and extracellular matrix (ECM). Here we show that galectin-1 (Gal-1), an endogenous lectin that recognizes glycans bearing N-acetyllactosamine (LacNAc) epitopes, induces branching migration of mammary epithelia in vivo, ex vivo, and in 3D organotypic cultures. Surprisingly, Gal-1's effects on mammary patterning were independent of its glycan-binding ability and instead required localization within the nuclei of mammary epithelia. Nuclear translocation of Gal-1, in turn, was regulated by discrete cell-surface glycans restricted to the front of the mammary end buds. Specifically, a2,6-sialylation of terminal LacNAc residues in the end buds masked Gal-1 ligands, thereby liberating the protein for nuclear translocation. Within mammary epithelia, Gal-1 localized within nuclear Gemini bodies and drove epithelial invasiveness. Conversely, unsialylated LacNAc glycans, enriched in the epithelial ducts, sequestered Gal-1 in the extracellular environment, ultimately attenuating invasive potential. We also found that malignant breast cells possess higher levels of nuclear Gal-1 and a2,6-SA and lower levels of LacNAc than nonmalignant cells in culture and in vivo and that nuclear localization of Gal-1 promotes a transformed phenotype. Our findings suggest that differential glycosylation at the level of tissue microanatomy regulates the nuclear function of Gal-1 in the context of mammary gland morphogenesis and in cancer progression.
View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1609135113
View details for PubMedID 27496330
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4995945