Research Papers:

c-Abl inhibits breast cancer tumorigenesis through reactivation of p53-mediated p21 expression

Chevaun D. Morrison, Tressa M. Allington, Cheryl L. Thompson, Hannah L. Gilmore, Jenny C. Chang, Ruth A. Keri and William P. Schiemann _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:72777-72794. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.11909

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Chevaun D. Morrison1,*, Tressa M. Allington2,*, Cheryl L. Thompson3, Hannah L. Gilmore4, Jenny C. Chang5, Ruth A. Keri6, William P. Schiemann1

1Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA

2Department of Pharmacology, Anschutz Medical Campus, University of Colorado-Denver, Aurora, CO 80045, USA

3Department of Nutrition, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA

4Department of Pathology, University Hospitals, Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA

5Houston Methodist Research Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA

6Department of Pharmacology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA

*These authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to:

William P. Schiemann, email: [email protected]

Keywords: breast cancer, c-Abl, p53, transforming growth factor-β, triple-negative breast cancer

Received: January 20, 2016     Accepted: September 02, 2016     Published: September 08, 2016


We previously reported that constitutive c-Abl activity (CST-Abl) abrogates the tumorigenicity of triple-negative breast cancer cells through the combined actions of two cellular events: downregulated matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) and upregulated p21Waf1/Cip1 expression. We now find decreased c-Abl expression to be significantly associated with diminished relapse-fee survival in breast cancer patients, particularly those exhibiting invasive and basal phenotypes. Moreover, CST-Abl expression enabled 4T1 cells to persist innocuously in the mammary glands of mice, doing so by exhausting their supply of cancer stem cells. Restoring MMP-9 expression and activity in CST-Abl-expressing 4T1 cells failed to rescue their malignant phenotypes; however, rendering these same cells deficient in p21 expression not only delayed their acquisition of senescent phenotypes, but also partially restored their tumorigenicity in mice. Although 4T1 cells lacked detectable expression of p53, those engineered to express CST-Abl exhibited robust production and secretion of TGF-β1 that engendered the reactivated expression of p53. Mechanistically, TGF-β-mediated p53 expression transpired through the combined actions of Smad1/5/8 and Smad2, leading to the dramatic upregulation of p21 and its stimulation of TNBC senescence. Collectively, we identified a novel c-Abl:p53:p21 signaling axis that functions as a powerful suppressor of mammary tumorigenesis and metastatic progression.

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