Introduction: Chemotherapy resistance resulting in incomplete pathologic response is associated with high risk of metastasis and early relapse in breast cancer. The aim of this study was to identify and evaluate biomarkers of treatment-resistant tumor cells. Methods: We performed a cell surface marker screen in triple-negative breast cancer patient-derived xenograft models treated with standard care genotoxic chemotherapy. Global expression profiling was used to further characterize the identified treatment-resistant subpopulations. Results: High expression of sialyl-glycolipid stage-specific embryonic antigen 4 (SSEA4) was found in residual tumor cells surviving chemotherapy and in samples from metastatic patients who relapsed after neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Gene and microRNA (miRNA) expression profiling linked SSEA4 positivity with a mesenchymal phenotype and a deregulation of drug resistance pathways. Functional assays demonstrated a direct link between epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and SSEA4 expression. Interestingly, SSEA4 expression, EMT, and drug resistance seemed to be regulated posttranscriptionally. Finally, high expression of CMP-N-acetylneuraminate-β-galactosamide-aα-2,3-sialyltransferase 2 (ST3GAL2), the rate-limiting enzyme of SSEA4 synthesis, was found to be associated with poor clinical outcome in breast and ovarian cancer patients treated with chemotherapy. Conclusions: In this study, we identified SSEA4 as highly expressed in a subpopulation of tumor cells resistant to multiple commonly used chemotherapy drugs, as well as ST3GAL2, the rate-limiting enzyme of SSEA4 synthesis, as a predictive marker of poor outcome for breast and ovarian cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Both biomarkers and additionally identified regulatory miRNAs may be used to further understand chemoresistance, to stratify patient groups in order to avoid ineffective and painful therapies, and to develop alternative treatment regimens for breast cancer patients.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research