Pre-clinical validation of a selective anti-cancer stem cell therapy for Numb-deficient human breast cancers

Daniela Tosoni, Sarah Pambianco, Blanche Ekalle Soppo, Silvia Zecchini, Giovanni Bertalot, Giancarlo Pruneri, Giuseppe Viale, Pier Paolo Di Fiore, Salvatore Pece

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cell fate determinant Numb is frequently downregulated in human breast cancers (BCs), resulting in p53 inactivation and an aggressive disease course. In the mouse mammary gland, Numb/p53 downregulation leads to aberrant tissue morphogenesis, expansion of the stem cell compartment, and emergence of cancer stem cells (CSCs). Strikingly, CSC phenotypes in a Numb-knockout mouse model can be reverted by Numb/p53 restoration. Thus, targeting Numb/p53 dysfunction in Numb-deficient human BCs could represent a novel anti-CSC therapy. Here, using patient-derived xenografts, we show that expansion of the CSC pool, due to altered self-renewing divisions, is also a feature of Numb-deficient human BCs. In these cancers, using the inhibitor Nutlin-3 to restore p53, we corrected the defective self-renewal properties of Numb-deficient CSCs and inhibited CSC expansion, with a marked effect on tumorigenicity and metastasis. Remarkably, a regimen combining Nutlin-3 and chemotherapy induced persistent tumor growth inhibition, or even regression, and prevented CSC-driven tumor relapse after removal of chemotherapy. Our data provide a pre-clinical proof-of-concept that targeting Numb/p53 results in a specific anti-CSC therapy in human BCs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)655-671
Number of pages17
JournalEMBO Molecular Medicine
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2017


  • breast cancer
  • cancer stem cells
  • Numb
  • p53
  • primary-derived xenografts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine


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