Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is characterized by the lack of expression of estrogen receptor-α (ER-α), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER-2). However, pathways responsible for downregulation of therapeutic receptors, as well as subsequent aggressiveness, remain unknown. In this study, we discovered that lactoferrin (Lf) efficiently downregulates levels of ER-α, PR, and HER-2 in a proteasome-dependent manner in breast cancer cells, and it accounts for the loss of responsiveness to ER- or HER-2-targeted therapies. Furthermore, we found that lactoferrin increases migration and invasiveness of both non-TNBC and TNBC cell lines. We discovered that lactoferrin directly stimulates the transcription of endothelin-1 (ET-1), a secreted proinvasive polypeptide that acts through a specific receptor, ET(A)R, leading to secretion of the bioactive ET-1 peptide. Interestingly, a therapeutic ET-1 receptor-antagonist blocked lactoferrin-dependent motility and invasiveness of breast cancer cells. The physiologic significance of this newly discovered Lf-ET-1 axis in the manifestation of TNBC phenotypes is revealed by elevated plasma and tissue lactoferrin and ET-1 levels in patients with TNBC compared with those in ER + cases. These findings describe the first physiologically relevant polypeptide as a functional determinant in downregulating all three therapeutic receptors in breast cancer, which uses another secreted ET-1 system to confer invasiveness. Results presented in this article provide proof-of-principle evidence in support of the therapeutic effectiveness of ET-1 receptor antagonist to completely block the lactoferrin-induced motility and invasiveness of the TNBC as well as non-TNBC cells, and thus, open a remarkable opportunity to treat TNBC by targeting the Lf-ET-1 axis using an approved developmental drug.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cancer Research