Cancer cells use stress response pathways to sustain their pathogenic behavior. In breast cancer, stress response-associated phenotypes are mediated by the breast tumor kinase, Brk (PTK6), via the hypoxia-inducible factors HIF-1a and HIF-2a. Given that glucocorticoid receptor (GR) is highly expressed in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), we investigated cross-talk between stress hormone-driven GR signaling and HIF-regulated physiologic stress. Primary TNBC tumor explants or cell lines treated with the GR ligand dexamethasone exhibited robust induction of Brk mRNA and protein that was HIF1/2-dependent. HIF and GR coassembled on the BRK promoter in response to either hypoxia or dexamethasone, indicating that Brk is a direct GR/HIF target. Notably, HIF-2a, not HIF-1a, expression was induced by GR signaling, and the important steroid receptor coactivator PELP1 was also found to be induced in a HIF-dependent manner. Mechanistic investigations showed how PELP1 interacted with GR to activate Brk expression and demonstrated that physiologic cell stress, including hypoxia, promoted phosphorylation of GR serine 134, initiating a feed-forward signaling loop that contributed significantly to Brk upregulation. Collectively, our findings linked cellular stress (HIF) and stress hormone (cortisol) signaling in TNBC, identifying the phospho-GR/HIF/PELP1 complex as a potential therapeutic target to limit Brk-driven progression and metastasis in TNBC patients.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research