Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC) comprise a heterogeneous subgroup of tumors with a generally poor prognosis. Subclassification of TNBC based on genomic analyses shows that basal-like TNBCs, specifically the basal A or BL2 subtype, are characterized by the expression of ΔNp63, a transcription factor that has been attributed a variety of roles in the regulation of proliferation, differentiation, and cell survival. To investigate the role(s) of p63 in basal-like breast cancers, we used HCC1806 cells that are classified as basal A/BL2. We show that these cells endogenously express p63, mainly as the ΔNp63α isoform. TP63 gene knockout by CRISPR resulted in viable cells that proliferate more slowly and adhere less tightly, with an increased rate of migration. Analysis of adhesion-related gene expression revealed a complex set of alterations in p63-depleted cells, with both increased and decreased adhesion molecules and adhesion substrates compared to parental cells expressing p63. Examination of the phenotype of these cells indicated that endogenous p63 is required to suppress the expression of luminal markers and maintain the basal epithelial phenotype, with increased levels of both CK8 and CK18 and a reduction in N-cadherin levels in cells lacking p63. On the other hand, the level of CK5 was not decreased and ER was not increased, indicating that p63 loss is insufficient to induce full luminal-type differentiation. Taken together, these data demonstrate that p63 exerts multiple pro-oncogenic effects on cell differentiation, proliferation and adhesion in basal-like breast cancers.
Keywords: Adhesion; Basal-like breast cancer; Differentiation; p63.