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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences




Tumor cell heterogeneity poses a major hurdle in the treatment of cancer. Mammary cancer stem-like cells (MaCSCs), or tumor-initiating cells, are highly tumorigenic sub-populations that have the potential to self-renew and to differentiate. These cells are clinically important, as they display therapeutic resistance and may contribute to treatment failure and recurrence, but the signaling axes relevant to the tumorigenic phenotype are poorly defined. The zinc-finger transcription factor Kruppel-like factor 4 (KLF4) is a pluripotency mediator that is enriched in MaCSCs. KLF4 promotes RAS-extracellular signal-regulated kinase pathway activity and tumor cell survival in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) cells. In this study, we found that both KLF4and a downstream effector, microRNA-206 (miR-206), are selectively enriched in the MaCSC fractions of cultured human TNBC cell lines, as well as in the aldehyde dehydrogenase-high MaCSC sub-population of cells derived from xenografted human mammary carcinomas. The suppression of endogenous KLF4 or miR-206 activities abrogated cell survival and in vivo tumor initiation, despite having only subtle effects on MaCSC abundance. Using a combinatorial approach that included in silico as well as loss- and gain-of-function in vitro assays, we identified miR-206-mediated repression of the pro-apoptotic molecules programmed cell death 4 (PDCD4) and connexin 43 (CX43/GJA1). Depletion of either of these two miR-206-regulated transcripts promoted resistance to anoikis, a prominent feature of CSCs, but did not consistently alter MaCSC abundance. Consistent with increased levels of miR-206 in MaCSCs, the expression of both PDCD4 and CX43 was suppressed in these cells relative to control cells. These results identify miR-206 as an effector of KLF4-mediated prosurvival signaling in MaCSCs through repression of PDCD4 and CX43. Consequently, our study suggests that a pluripotency factor exerts prosurvival signaling in MaCSCs, and that antagonism of KLF4-miR-206 signaling may selectively target the MaCSC niche in TNBC.

Source Citation

Lin, C., Sharma, S., Farrugia, M. et al. Kruppel-like factor 4 signals through microRNA-206 to promote tumor initiation and cell survival. Oncogenesis 4, e155 (2015).


Oncogenesis is an open-access journal published by Nature Publishing Group. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit



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