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Targeting STAT3 signalling using stabilised sulforaphane (SFX-01) inhibits endocrine resistant stem-like cells in ER-positive breast cancer

By Bruno M. Simões, Angélica Santiago-Gómez, Chiara Chiodo, Tiago Moreira, Daniel Conole, Scott Lovell, Denis Alferez, Rachel Eyre, Katherine Spence, Aida Sarmiento-Castro, Bertram Kohler, Marilena Lanzino, Sebastiano Andò, Elisabetta Marangoni, Andrew H Sims, Edward William Tate, Sacha J Howell, Robert B. Clarke

Posted 04 Feb 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.02.03.932194 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41388-020-1335-z)

PURPOSE: Estrogen receptor (ER) positive breast cancer is frequently sensitive to endocrine therapy. Multiple mechanisms of endocrine therapy resistance have been identified, including cancer stem-like cell (CSC) activity. Sulforaphane (SFN) has previously been shown to target CSCs but its mechanism of action is unclear. Here we investigate SFX-01, a stabilised formulation of SFN, for its effects on breast CSC activity in ER+ preclinical models and to study its mechanism. EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: CSC activity was measured by mammosphere formation efficiency (MFE), aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) activity, and tumor formation using patient samples and patient-derived xenograft (PDX) tumors treated with SFX-01 alone or in combination with tamoxifen or fulvestrant. Gene expression and SFN target proteins in treated samples were assessed. RESULTS: SFX-01 reduced MFE of both ER+ primary and metastatic patient samples. Both tamoxifen and fulvestrant increased MFE and ALDH activity of PDX tumors, which was reversed by combination with SFX-01. SFX-01 significantly reduced tumor initiating cell frequency in secondary transplants at limiting dilution and reduced the formation of spontaneous lung micrometastases by PDX tumors in mice. Mechanistically, we establish that both tamoxifen and fulvestrant induce STAT3 phosphorylation. SFX-01 suppressed phospho-STAT3 and SFN directly bound STAT3 in patient and PDX samples. Analysis of ALDH+ cells from endocrine-resistant patient samples revealed activation of STAT3 target genes MUC1 and OSMR, which were inhibited by SFX-01 in patient samples. Increased expression of these genes after 3 months' endocrine treatment of ER+ patients (n=68) predicted poor prognosis. CONCLUSIONS: Our data establish the importance of STAT3 signaling in CSC-mediated resistance to endocrine therapy and the potential of SFX-01 for improving clinical outcomes in ER+ breast cancer.

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