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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences




The Kruppel-like transcription factors (KLFs) 4 and 5 (KLF4/5) are coexpressed in mouse embryonic stem cells, where they function redundantly to maintain pluripotency. In mammary carcinoma, KLF4/5 can each impact the malignant phenotype, but potential linkages to drug resistance remain unclear. In primary human breast cancers, we observed a positive correlation between KLF4/5 transcript abundance, particularly in the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-enriched subtype. Furthermore, KLF4/5 protein was rapidly upregulated in human breast cancer cells following treatment with the HER2/epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitor, lapatinib. In addition, we observed a positive correlation between these factors in the primary tumors of genetically engineered mouse models (GEMMs). In particular, the levels of both factors were enriched in the basal-like tumors of the C3(1) TAg (SV40 large T antigen transgenic mice under control of the C3(1)/prostatein promoter) GEMM. Using tumor cells derived from this model as well as human breast cancer cells, suppression of KLF4 and/or KLF5 sensitized HER2-overexpressing cells to lapatinib. Indicating cooperativity, greater effects were observed when both genes were depleted. KLF4/5-deficient cells had reduced basal mRNA and protein levels of the anti-apoptotic factors myeloid cell leukemia 1 (MCL1) and B-cell lymphoma-extra large (BCL-XL). Moreover, MCL1 was upregulated by lapatinib in a KLF4/5-dependent manner, and enforced expression of MCL1 in KLF4/5-deficient cells restored drug resistance. In addition, combined suppression of KLF4/5 in cultured tumor cells additively inhibited anchorage-independent growth, resistance to anoikis and tumor formation in immunocompromised mice. Consistent with their cooperative role in drug resistance and other malignant properties, KLF4/5 levels selectively stratified human HER2-enriched breast cancer by distant metastasis-free survival. These results identify KLF4 and KLF5 as cooperating protumorigenic factors and critical participants in resistance to lapatinib, furthering the rationale for combining anti-MCL1/BCL-XL inhibitors with conventional HER2-targeted therapies.

Source Citation

Farrugia, M., Sharma, S., Lin, C. et al. Regulation of anti-apoptotic signaling by Kruppel-like factors 4 and 5 mediates lapatinib resistance in breast cancer. Cell Death Dis 6, e1699 (2015).


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