Nuclear receptor NR4A1 promotes breast cancer invasion and metastasis by activating TGF-β signalling

Nat Commun. 2014 Mar 3;5:3388. doi: 10.1038/ncomms4388.


In advanced cancers, the TGF-β pathway acts as an oncogenic factor and is considered to be a therapeutic target. Here using a genome-wide cDNA screen, we identify nuclear receptor NR4A1 as a strong activator of TGF-β signalling. NR4A1 promotes TGF-β/SMAD signalling by facilitating AXIN2-RNF12/ARKADIA-induced SMAD7 degradation. NR4A1 interacts with SMAD7 and AXIN2, and potently and directly induces AXIN2 expression. Whereas loss of NR4A1 inhibits TGF-β-induced epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and metastasis, slight NR4A1 ectopic expression stimulates metastasis in a TGF-β-dependent manner. Importantly, inflammatory cytokines potently induce NR4A1 expression, and potentiate TGF-β-mediated breast cancer cell migration, invasion and metastasis in vitro and in vivo. Notably, NR4A1 expression is elevated in breast cancer patients with high immune infiltration and its expression weakly correlates with phosphorylated SMAD2 levels, and is an indicator of poor prognosis. Our results uncover inflammation-induced NR4A1 as an important determinant for hyperactivation of pro-oncogenic TGF-β signalling in breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Female
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Animal / genetics
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Animal / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / genetics
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / physiopathology*
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 4, Group A, Member 1 / genetics
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 4, Group A, Member 1 / metabolism*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Smad3 Protein / genetics
  • Smad3 Protein / metabolism
  • Smad4 Protein / genetics
  • Smad4 Protein / metabolism
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / genetics
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism*
  • Ubiquitination / genetics
  • Ubiquitination / physiology
  • Zebrafish


  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 4, Group A, Member 1
  • Smad3 Protein
  • Smad3 protein, mouse
  • Smad4 Protein
  • Smad4 protein, mouse
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta