Members of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor family are known to be specifically involved in mammary carcinogenesis. As a nuclear target of activated receptors, we examined c-Jun in mammary epithelial cells. For this, we used a c-JunER fusion protein which was tightly controlled by estrogen. Activation of the JunER by hormone resulted in the transcriptional regulation of a variety of AP-1 target genes. Hormone-activated JunER induced the loss of epithelial polarity, a disruption of intercellular junctions and normal barrier function and the formation of irregular multilayers. These changes were completely reversible upon hormone withdrawal. Loss of epithelial polarity involved redistribution of both apical and basolateral proteins to the entire plasma membrane. The redistribution of E-cadherin and beta-catenin was accompanied by a destabilization of complexes formed between these two proteins, leading to an enrichment of beta-catenin in the detergent-soluble fraction. Uninduced cells were able to form three-dimensional tubular structures in collagen I gels which were disrupted upon JunER activation, leading to irregular cell aggregates. The JunER-induced disruption of tubular structures was dependent on active signaling by growth factors. Moreover, the effects of JunER could be mimicked in normal cells by the addition of acidic fibroblast growth factor (aFGF). These data suggest that a possible function of c-Jun in epithelial cells is to modulate epithelial polarity and regulate tissue organization, processes which may be equally important for both normal breast development and as initiating steps in carcinogenesis.

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