Activating senescence in p16-positive Basal-like breast cancer.
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Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and Basal-like breast cancer (a highly aggressive subtype) accounts for approximately 8-22% of all cases depending on ethnicity. Unlike most human malignancies and indeed other PAM50 breast cancer subtypes, the vast majority of Basal-like tumours are positive for wild type p16. This p16 signature is associated with a particularly poor prognosis and p16-positive Basal-like breast cancer remains the most clinically challenging subtype and is the focus of this project. Pro-senescence therapies are gaining momentum as attractive strategies for the treatment of those breast cancers with current unmet clinical need. To identify targets for pro-senescence therapy in p16-positive Basal-like breast cancer, a genome‐wide siRNA screen and two subsequent validation screens using two p16-positive cancer cell lines were performed. Screening revealed 20 siRNAs that induced senescence within both cancer cell lines. Strikingly, 11 of these 20 siRNAs targeted ribosomal proteins, implicating disrupted ribosomal biosynthesis in senescence activation in p16-positive Basal-like breast cancer. Importantly, subsequent experiments in normal human mammary epithelial cells established that specific ribosomal protein knockdown is well tolerated by normal cells. Analysis of the METABRIC data set showed a high degree of ribosomal dysregulation in Basal-like tumours and revealed that all 11 ribosomal hits identified were frequently overexpressed in p16-positive Basal-like breast cancers. Kaplan Meier analysis confirmed that elevated expression of six of the 11 ribosomal proteins correlates with a reduced overall survival in these women, further supporting a role for these proteins as drivers of disease. These six ribosomal hits, associated with the poorest patient survival, were prioritised for further validation. Senescence induction was found to be highly stable, and associated with dramatic changes to nucleolar morphology, reminiscent of the nucleolar signature observed upon premature senescence induction in normal human mammary epithelial cells. In addition, siRNA rescue experiments indicated that senescence initiation is dependent on p16 and p21 expression and is accompanied by p16 nuclear translocation and p21 degradation. Further, ribosomal protein silencing in MDA-MB-231 cells (p16-null Basal-like breast cancer cell line) resulted in a ‘death-like’ phenotype, partially dependent on p21 expression suggesting that, within a cancer context, ribosomal protein silencing may induce a differential response depending on the status of p16. In conclusion, it is proposed that these six ribosomal candidates may form the basis of a novel pro-senescence therapy for p16-positive Basal-like breast cancer. They may also represent novel prognostic biomarkers for this disease subset and may help to improve disease stratification and future directed personalised therapies.
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