Kruppel-like factor 4 (KLF4) is required for maintenance of breast cancer stem cells and for cell migration and invasion

Oncogene. 2011 May 5;30(18):2161-72. doi: 10.1038/onc.2010.591. Epub 2011 Jan 17.


Kruppel-like factor 4 (KLF4) is highly expressed in more than 70% of breast cancers and functions as an oncogene. However, an exact mechanism by which KLF4 enhances tumorigenesis of breast cancer remains unknown. In this study, we show that KLF4 was highly expressed in cancer stem cell (CSC)-enriched populations in mouse primary mammary tumor and breast cancer cell lines. Knockdown of KLF4 in breast cancer cells (MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231) decreased the proportion of stem/progenitor cells as demonstrated by expression of stem cell surface markers such as aldehyde dehydrogenase 1, side population and by in vitro mammosphere assay. Consistently KLF4 overexpression led to an increase of the cancer stem cell population. KLF4 knockdown also suppressed cell migration and invasion in MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cells. Furthermore, knockdown of KLF4 reduced colony formation in vitro and inhibited tumorigenesis in immunocompromised non-obese diabetic/severe combined immunodeficiency mice, supporting an oncogenic role for KLF4 in breast cancer development. Further mechanistic studies revealed that the Notch signaling pathway was required for KLF4-mediated cell migration and invasion, but not for CSC maintenance. Taken together, our study provides evidence that KLF4 has a potent oncogenic role in mammary tumorigenesis likely by maintaining stem cell-like features and by promoting cell migration and invasion. Thus, targeting KLF4 may provide an effective therapeutic approach to suppress tumorigenicity in breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Humans
  • Kruppel-Like Factor 4
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Receptors, Notch / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • KLF4 protein, human
  • Klf4 protein, mouse
  • Kruppel-Like Factor 4
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors
  • Receptors, Notch