The triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) subtype is one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer that has poor clinical outcome and still remains as an unmet clinical challenge. Accumulating evidence suggests that intratumoral heterogeneity or the presence of phenotypically heterogeneous cell populations within a tumor plays a crucial role in chemoresistance, tumor progression and metastasis. Increased understanding of the molecular regulators of intratumoral heterogeneity will enable the development of effective therapeutic strategies in TNBC. We have identified a molecular mediator involved in intratumoral heterogeneity in breast cancer using an unbiased approach. We isolated two heterogeneous tumor cell populations from the 4T1 TNBC tumor model and phenotypic characterization revealed that the cells are distinct in terms of their morphology, proliferation and self-renewal ability in vitro; as well as primary tumor formation and metastatic potential in vivo. Further, RNA sequencing on both cell populations was performed to identify the molecular mediators underlying this heterogeneity. Bioinformatic analysis performed on the differentially expressed genes along with the Kaplan-Meier survival analysis in TNBC patients identified Metastasis associated colon cancer 1 (Macc1) as the top candidate gene mediating the aggressive phenotype. The role of Macc1 in regulating the proliferative phenotype was validated using siRNA mediated gene knockdown. The role of Macc1 in the aggressive cancer cell phenotypes and disease progression is being studied further using a small molecule transcriptional inhibitor of Macc1 in cell line and animal models, thus increasing our understanding of the molecular underpinnings of intratumoral heterogeneity in breast cancer that is critical to the improvement in the treatment of women currently living with the highly aggressive TNBC subtype.
Intratumoral heterogeneity; Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC); Macc1; Phenotypic heteroge-neity
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