Whereas the tumor acidic extracellular pH plays a crucial role in the invasive process, the mechanism(s) behind this acidification, especially in low nutrient conditions, are unclear. The regulation of the Na+/H+ exchanger (NHE) and invasion by serum deprivation were studied in a series of breast epithelial cell lines representing progression from non-tumor to highly metastatic cells. Whereas serum deprivation reduced lactate production in all three cells lines, it inhibited NHE activity in the non-tumor cells and stimulated it in the tumor cells with a larger stimulation in the metastatic cells. The stimulation of NHE in the tumor cell lines was the result of an increased affinity of the internal H+ regulatory site of the NHE without changes in sodium kinetics or expression. Serum deprivation conferred increased cell motility and invasive ability that were abrogated by specific inhibition of the NHE. Inhibition of phosphoinositide 3-kinase by overexpression of a dominant-negative mutant or wortmannin incubation inhibited NHE activity and invasion in serum replete conditions while potentiating the serum deprivation-dependent activation of the NHE and invasion. These results indicate that the up-regulation of the NHE by a phosphoinositide 3-kinase-dependent mechanism plays an essential role in increased tumor cell invasion induced by serum deprivation.
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