Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) represents approximately 15% of the newly diagnosed cancers worldwide and is characterized by tissue lacking in estrogen, progesterone and human epidermal growth factor receptors. TNBC disproportionately affects younger women and women of colour, and new treatments are needed. The opioid growth factor (OGF) - opioid growth factor receptor (OGFr) axis is a determinant of cell proliferation in neoplasia, and OGF is an endogenously produced pentapeptide that inhibits cell replication by interacting with OGFr and upregulating cyclin-dependent inhibitory kinase pathways thus reducing DNA synthesis. In these studies we investigated the presence and function of the OGF-OGFr axis in two human TNBC cell lines, as well as in breast cancer cell lines containing hormonal receptors. TNBC cell lines MDA-MD-231 and BT-20, as well as human breast cancer cells SK-BR-3 and MCF-7, were examined for the presence of pentapeptide and receptors, as well as their response to OGF. Specificity of peptide and receptor was confirmed by antibody neutralization and molecular studies to knockdown classical receptor protein. The requirement for protein transcription and translation and RNA transcription were investigated. Growth of TNBC cells in the presence of OGF and standard of care chemotherapeutic agent paclitaxel was evaluated to determine both efficacy and protective effects against toxicity. OGF treatment inhibited TNBC cells in a dosage related, receptor mediated, and reversible manner. OGF was the specific endogenous opioid to inhibit cell proliferation, and this was mediated by p21 cyclin dependent inhibitory kinase pathways, and required protein and RNA synthesis. OGFr was the specific receptor involved; both peptide and receptor were detected in all four cell lines. OGF treatment inhibited growth of all cancer cell lines evaluated, and reduced cell death in cultures exposed to paclitaxel. The OGF-OGFr axis is present and functioning in TNBC cell lines, and provides a novel biological pathway as potential therapy.
Keywords: DNA synthesis; Opioid growth factor; [Met5]-enkephalin; cyclin-dependent inhibitory kinase pathways; opioid growth factor receptor; triple-negative breast cancer.