Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) has a poor prognosis due to its aggressive characteristics and lack of targeted therapies. Cytotoxic chemotherapy may reduce tumor bulk, but leaves residual disease due to the persistence of chemotherapy-resistant breast cancer stem cells (BCSC), which are critical for tumor recurrence and metastasis. Here, we demonstrate that hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1-dependent regulation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways contributes to chemotherapyinduced BCSC enrichment. Chemotherapy increased DUSP9 expression and decreased DUSP16 expression in a HIF1-dependent manner, leading to inhibition of ERK and activation of p38 signaling pathways, respectively. Inhibition of ERK caused transcriptional induction of the pluripotency factor Nanog through decreased inactivating phosphorylation of FoxO3, while activation of p38 stabilized Nanog and Klf4 mRNA through increased inactivating phosphorylation of RNA-binding protein ZFP36L1, both of which promoted specification of the BCSC phenotype. Inhibition of HIF1 or p38 signaling blocked chemotherapy-induced pluripotency factor expression and BCSC enrichment. These surprising results delineate a mechanism by which a transcription factor switches cells from ERK to p38 signaling in response to chemotherapy and suggest that therapeutic targeting of HIF1 or the p38 pathway in combination with chemotherapy will block BCSC enrichment and improve outcome in TNBC.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research