Introduction: Basal-like breast cancers (BLBCs) are very aggressive, and present serious clinical challenges as there are currently no targeted therapies available. We determined the regulatory role of Y-box binding protein-1 (YB-1) on epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) overexpression in BLBC, and the therapeutic potential of inhibiting EGFR. We pursued this in light of our recent work showing that YB-1 induces the expression of EGFR, a new BLBC marker.
Methods: Primary tumour tissues were evaluated for YB1 protein expression by immunostaining tissue microarrays, while copy number changes were assessed by comparative genomic hybridization (CGH). The ability of YB-1 to regulate EGFR was evaluated using luciferase reporter, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) and gel shift assays. The impact of Iressa on monolayer cell growth was measured using an ArrayScan VTI high-throughput analyser to count cell number, and colony formation in soft agar was used to measure anchorage-independent growth.
Results: YB-1 (27/37 or 73% of cases, P = 3.899 x 10(-4)) and EGFR (20/37 or 57.1% of cases, P = 9.206 x 10(-12)) are expressed in most cases of BLBC. However, they are not typically amplified in primary BLBC, suggesting overexpression owing to transcriptional activation. In support of this, we demonstrate that YB-1 promotes EGFR reporter activity. YB-1 specifically binds the EGFR promoter at two different YB-1-responsive elements (YREs) located at -940 and -968 using ChIP and gel shift assays in a manner that is dependent on the phosphorylation of S102 on YB-1. Inhibiting EGFR with Iressa suppressed the growth of SUM149 cells by approximately 40% in monolayer, independent of mutations in the receptor. More importantly anchorage-independent growth of BLBC cell lines was inhibited with combinations of Iressa and YB-1 suppression.
Conclusion: We have identified for the first time a causal link for the expression of EGFR in BLBC through the induction by YB-1 where it binds specifically to two distinguished YREs. Finally, inhibition of EGFR in combination with suppression of YB-1 presents a potential opportunity for therapy in BLBC.