Tyrosine kinases orchestrate key cellular signaling pathways and their dysregulation is often associated with cellular transformation. Several recent cases in which inhibitors of tyrosine kinases have been successfully used as anticancer agents have underscored the importance of this class of proteins in the development of targeted cancer therapies. We have carried out a large-scale loss-of-function analysis of the human tyrosine kinases using RNA interference to identify novel survival factors for breast cancer cells. In addition to kinases with known roles in breast and other cancers, we identified several kinases that were previously unknown to be required for breast cancer cell survival. The most surprising of these was the cytosolic, nonreceptor tyrosine kinase, Bruton's tyrosine kinase (BTK), which has been extensively studied in B cell development. Down regulation of this protein with RNAi or inhibition with pharmacological inhibitors causes apoptosis; overexpression inhibits apoptosis induced by Doxorubicin in breast cancer cells. Our results surprisingly show that BTK is expressed in several breast cancer cell lines and tumors. The predominant form of BTK found in tumor cells is transcribed from an alternative promoter and results in a protein with an amino-terminal extension. This alternate form of BTK is expressed at significantly higher levels in tumorigenic breast cells than in normal breast cells. Since this protein is a survival factor for these cells, it represents both a potential marker and novel therapeutic target for breast cancer.
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