MUC1-C Stabilizes MCL-1 in the Oxidative Stress Response of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Cells to BCL-2 Inhibitors

Masayuki Hiraki, Yozo Suzuki, Maroof Alam, Kunihiko Hinohara, Masanori Hasegawa, Caining Jin, Surender Kharbanda, Donald Kufe
Scientific Reports 2016 May 24, 6: 26643
Aberrant expression of myeloid cell leukemia-1 (MCL-1) is a major cause of drug resistance in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) cells. Mucin 1 (MUC1) is a heterodimeric oncoprotein that is aberrantly overexpressed in most TNBC. The present studies show that targeting the oncogenic MUC1 C-terminal subunit (MUC1-C) in TNBC cells with silencing or pharmacologic inhibition with GO-203 is associated with downregulation of MCL-1 levels. Targeting MUC1-C suppresses the MEK → ERK and PI3K → AKT pathways, and in turn destabilizes MCL-1. The small molecules ABT-737 and ABT-263 target BCL-2, BCL-XL and BCL-w, but not MCL-1. We show that treatment with ABT-737 increases reactive oxygen species and thereby MUC1-C expression. In this way, MUC1-C is upregulated in TNBC cells resistant to ABT-737 or ABT-263. We also demonstrate that MUC1-C is necessary for the resistance-associated increases in MCL-1 levels. Significantly, combining GO-203 with ABT-737 is synergistic in inhibiting survival of parental and drug resistant TNBC cells. These findings indicate that targeting MUC1-C is a potential strategy for reversing MCL-1-mediated resistance in TNBC.

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