BackgroundThe expression of side-population (SP) cells and their relation to tumour-initiating cells (T-ICs) have been insufficiently studied in breast cancer (BC). We therefore evaluated primary cell cultures derived from patients and a panel of human BC cell lines with luminal- or basal-molecular signatures for the presence of SP and BC stem cell markers.
MethodsThe SPs from luminal-type BC were analysed for BC T-IC characteristics, including human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), ERalpha, IGFBP7 expression and their ability to initiate tumours in non-obese diabetic severe combined immunodeficiency (NOD/SCID) mice. Pharmacological modulators were used to assess the effects of HER2 signalling and breast cancer-resistance protein (BCRP) expression on SPs.
ResultsThe SP was more prevalent in the luminal subtype of BC compared with the basal subtype. HER2 expression was significantly correlated with the occurrence of an SP (r(2)=0.75, P=0.0003). Disappearance of SP in the presence of Ko143, a specific inhibitor of the ATP-binding cassette transporter BCRP, suggests that BCRP is the predominant transporter expressed in this population. The SP also decreased in the presence of HER2 signalling inhibitors AG825 or trastuzumab, strengthening the notion that HER2 contributed to the SP phenotype, likely through downstream AKT signalling. The SP cells from luminal-type MCF-7 cells with enforced expression of HER2, and primary cells with luminal-like properties from a BC patient, displayed enrichment in cells capable of repopulating tumours in NOD/SCID mice. Engraftment of SP cells was inhibited by pretreatment with AG825 or by in vivo treatment with trastuzumab.
InterpretationOur findings indicate an important role of HER2 in regulating SP and hence T-ICs in BC, which may account for the poor responsiveness of HER2-positive BCs to chemotherapy, as well as their aggressiveness.
SUBMITTER: Nakanishi T