Mir-146 connects stem cell identity with metabolism and pharmacological resistance in breast cancer

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Although ectopic overexpression of miRNAs can influence mammary normal and cancer stem cells (SCs/CSCs), their physiological relevance remains uncertain. Here, we show that miR-146 is relevant for SC/CSC activity. MiR-146a/b expression is high in SCs/CSCs from human/mouse primary mammary tissues, correlates with the basal-like breast cancer subtype, which typically has a high CSC content, and specifically distinguishes cells with SC/CSC identity. Loss of miR-146 reduces SC/ CSC self-renewal in vitro and compromises patient-derived xenograft tumor growth in vivo, decreasing the number of tumor-initiating cells, thus supporting its pro-oncogenic function. Transcriptional analysis in mammary SC-like cells revealed that miR-146 has pleiotropic effects, reducing adaptive response mechanisms and activating the exit from quiescent state, through a complex network of finely regulated miRNA targets related to quiescence, transcription, and one-carbon pool metabolism. Consistent with these findings, SCs/CSCs display innate resistance to anti-folate chemotherapies either in vitro or in vivo that can be reversed by miR-146 depletion, unmasking a “hidden vulnerability” exploitable for the development of anti-CSC therapies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere202009053
JournalJournal of Cell Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 3 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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