Extracellular Domains i and II of cell-surface glycoprotein CD44 mediate its trans-homophilic dimerization and tumor cluster aggregation

Madoka Kawaguchi, Nurmaa Dashzeveg, Yue Cao, Yuzhi Jia, Xia Liu, Yang Shen, Huiping Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


CD44 molecule (CD44) is a well-known surface glycoprotein on tumor-initiating cells or cancer stem cells. However, its utility as a therapeutic target for managing metastases remains to be fully evaluated. We previously demonstrated that CD44 mediates homophilic interactions for circulating tumor cell (CTC) cluster formation, which enhances cancer stemness and metastatic potential in association with an unfavorable prognosis. Furthermore, CD44 self-interactions activate the P21-activated kinase 2 (PAK2) signaling pathway. Here, we further examined the biochemical properties of CD44 in homotypic tumor cell aggregation. The standard CD44 form (CD44s) mainly assembled as intercellular homodimers (trans-dimers) in tumor clusters rather than intracellular dimers (cis-dimers) present in single cells. Machine learning-based computational modeling combined with experimental mutagenesis tests revealed that the extracellular Domains I and II ofCD44are essential for its transdimerization and predicted high-score residues to be required for dimerization. Substitutions of 10 these residues in Domain I (Ser-45, Glu-48, Phe-74, Cys-77, Arg-78, Tyr-79, Ile-88, Arg-90, Asn-94, and Cys-97) or 5 residues in Domain II (Ile-106, Tyr- 155, Val-156, Gln-157, and Lys-158) abolished CD44 dimerization and reduced tumor cell aggregation in vitro. Importantly, the substitutions in Domain II dramatically inhibited lung colonization in mice. The CD44 dimer-disrupting substitutions decreased downstream PAK2 activation without affecting the interaction between CD44 and PAK2, suggesting that PAK2 activation in tumor cell clusters is CD44 trans-dimer-dependent. These results shed critical light on the biochemical mechanisms of CD44-mediated tumor cell cluster formation and may help inform the development of therapeutic strategies to prevent tumor cluster formation and block cluster-mediated metastases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2640-2649
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Feb 28 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Kawaguchi et al.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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