GABA(A) receptor pi (GABRP) stimulates basal-like breast cancer cell migration through activation of extracellular-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2)

J Biol Chem. 2014 Aug 29;289(35):24102-13. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M114.593582. Epub 2014 Jul 10.


Breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease comprised of distinct subtypes predictive of patient outcome. Tumors of the basal-like subtype have a poor prognosis due to inherent aggressiveness and the lack of targeted therapeutics. Basal-like tumors typically lack estrogen receptor-α, progesterone receptor and HER2/ERBB2, or in other words they are triple negative (TN). Continued evaluation of basal-like breast cancer (BLBC) biology is essential to identify novel therapeutic targets. Expression of the pi subunit of the GABA(A) receptor (GABRP) is associated with the BLBC/TN subtype, and herein, we reveal its expression also correlates with metastases to the brain and poorer patient outcome. GABRP expression in breast cancer cell lines also demonstrates a significant correlation with the basal-like subtype suggesting that GABRP functions in the initiation and/or progression of basal-like tumors. To address this postulate, we stably silenced GABRP in two BLBC cell lines, HCC1187 and HCC70 cells. Decreased GABRP reduces in vitro tumorigenic potential and migration concurrent with alterations in the cytoskeleton, specifically diminished cellular protrusions and expression of the BLBC-associated cytokeratins, KRT5, KRT6B, KRT14, and KRT17. Silencing GABRP also decreases phosphorylation of extracellular regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) in both cell lines and selective inhibition of ERK1/2 similarly decreases the basal-like cytokeratins as well as migration. Combined, these data reveal a GABRP-ERK1/2-cytokeratin axis that maintains the migratory phenotype of basal-like breast cancer. GABRP is a component of a cell surface receptor, thus, these findings suggest that targeting this new signaling axis may have therapeutic potential in BLBC.

Keywords: Breast Cancer; Cell Migration; Cytoskeleton; Extracellular Signal-regulated Kinase (ERK); GABA Receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Line
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Silencing
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System*
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology*
  • Survival Analysis


  • GABRP protein, human
  • Receptors, GABA-A