Epigenetic regulation in triple-negative breast cancer: tools to identify novel microRNA pathways
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for 15% of all diagnosed breast cancers nationally and affects African-American women 3 times more likely than any other ethnic group. Locally, African-American women in the New Orleans area see higher incidence of TNBC cases versus African-American women from the rest of the state of Louisiana, which represents an area of heightened public health interest for the metropolitan area. TNBC is a highly metastatic disease, and targeted therapies such as tamoxifen and herceptin are ineffective due to the lack of estrogen receptor (ER) and HER2/neu target expression in TNBC tumors. Chemotherapy remains the only effective drug therapy in TNBC cases. Evaluating new classes of drugs for clinical use against TNBC as well as furthering our understanding of underlying regulatory mechanisms in TNBC is a priority. Pan-deacetylase inhibitors (DACi), like panobinostat, have shown promise in clinical trials as therapies in other cancers. Pre-clinical data of panobinostat treatment in TNBC cell lines published by this lab has been positive so far, exhibiting a reduction in TNBC metastatic potential. DACi can alter multiple signaling pathways and are known to restore dysregulated microRNA (miRNA) expression patterns (miRnome) in cancers. MiRNA are a relatively new class of non-protein coding regulatory biomolecules that exhibit a variety of cancer-related properties, many still unknown in TNBC. Pan-DACi treatment combined with miRnome analysis in TNBC cell lines can be used to identify previously unknown miRNA cancer-related properties in TNBC. The specific aim of this project consists of using DACi treatment on TNBC cell lines in conjunction with miRnome analysis to identify previously undescribed anti-cancer miRNAs and elucidate their cancer-related properties in TNBC while uncovering affected cancer pathways, detecting miRNA targets, and revealing affected downstream components. Initial miRNA expression analysis of MDA-MB-231 TNBC cells treated with panobinostat or trichostatin A versus controls produced a list of potential anti-cancer miRNA candidates for further study. Among them, investigations into miR-203 and miR-335 produced unclear results as these were theorized to have anti-metastatic properties in TNBC yet enhanced cancer properties in our models and assays. Overexpression of mir-215 (a tumor suppressor in other cancers) unexpectedly enhanced tumor growth five fold in SCID mice xenografted with lentivirally-transduced MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells stably overexpressing miR-215 (231/215+). Further qPCR analysis of 231/215+ cells uncovered upregulation of the breast cancer-associated lncRNA, HOTAIR; the breast cancer-associated miRNA, miR-196a; as well as the entire HOXC cluster in which they reside. This represents a previously unidentified regulatory mechanism of the HOXC cluster in humans. Additionally, miR-200b overexpression in MDA-MB-231 cells induced a change in cell morphology to an epithelial-like phenotype, reduced migration by 50%, and re-expressed the epithelial marker CDH1. This demonstrates a partial reversal of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which indicates a reduction in metastatic potential by miR-200b overexpression in MDA-MB-231 cells. Additionally, these cells exhibited increased estrogen receptor alpha and related signaling pathways while also being susceptible to reduced proliferation with the anti-estrogen drug fulvestrant at high doses. Using pan-DACi treatment of TNBC cells to analyze changes in the miRnome for unknown cancer-related miRNA candidates suitable for further investigation in TNBC, we identified miR-215 overexpression in MDA-MB-231 cells as an oncogenic event that enhances tumor growth, cell proliferation, and HOXC cluster transcription while miR-200b is an anti-metastatic miRNA that partially reverses EMT and reduces fulvestrant resistance through re-expression of estrogen receptor signaling.