Maspin influences response to doxorubicin by changing the tumor microenvironment organization

Tiziana Triulzi, Manuela Ratti, Monica Tortoreto, Cristina Ghirelli, Piera Aiello, Viola Regondi, Martina Di Modica, Denis Cominetti, Maria L. Carcangiu, Angela Moliterni, Andrea Balsari, Patrizia Casalini, Elda Tagliabue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Altered degradation and deposition of extracellular matrix are hallmarks of tumor progression and response to therapy. From a microarray supervised analysis on a dataset of chemotherapy-treated breast carcinoma patients, maspin, a member of the serpin protease inhibitor family, has been the foremost variable identified in non-responsive versus responsive tumors. Accordingly, in a series of 52 human breast carcinomas, we detected high maspin expression in tumors that progressed under doxorubicin (DXR)-based chemotherapy. Our analysis of the role of maspin in response to chemotherapy in human MCF7 and MDAMB231 breast and SKOV3 ovarian carcinoma cells transfected to overexpress maspin and injected into mice showed that maspin overexpression led to DXR resistance through the maspin-induced collagen-enriched microenvironment and that an anti-maspin neutralizing monoclonal antibody reversed the collagen-dependent DXR resistance. Impaired diffusion and decreased DXR activity were also found in tumors derived from Matrigel-embedded cells, where abundant collagen fibers characterize the tumor matrix. Conversely, liposome-based DXR reached maspin-overexpressing tumor cells despite the abundant extracellular matrix and was more efficient in reducing tumor growth. Our results identify maspin-induced accumulation of collagen fibers as a cause of disease progression under DXR chemotherapy for breast cancer. Use of a more hydrophilic DXR formulation or of a maspin inhibitor in combination with chemotherapy holds the promise of more consistent responses to maspin-overexpressing tumors and dense-matrix tumors in general. What's new? Alterations in the extracellular matrix can cause resistance of tumors to chemotherapeutic drugs. Here, the authors identify the serpin-like serine protease inhibitor maspin as a gene upregulated in its expression in breast tumors that progress despite doxorubicin treatment. In mice xenografted with maspin-overexpressing tumor cells, enhanced collagen fiber accumulation and decreased diffusion of the chemotherapeutic drug was observed. The study indicates that more hydrophilic doxorubicin formulations or the combination with a maspin inhibitor could be useful in the treatment of drug-resistant, dense matrix breast tumors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2789-2797
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Jun 15 2014


  • drug delivery
  • extracellular matrix
  • maspin
  • response to doxorubicin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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