A Transcriptionally Definable Subgroup of Triple-Negative Breast and Ovarian Cancer Samples Shows Sensitivity to HSP90 Inhibition

Clin Cancer Res. 2020 Jan 1;26(1):159-170. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-18-2213. Epub 2019 Sep 26.


Purpose: We hypothesized that integrated analysis of cancer types from different lineages would reveal novel molecularly defined subgroups with unique therapeutic vulnerabilities. On the basis of the molecular similarities between subgroups of breast and ovarian cancers, we analyzed these cancers as a single cohort to test our hypothesis.

Experimental design: Identification of transcriptional subgroups of cancers and drug sensitivity analyses were performed using mined data. Cell line sensitivity to Hsp90 inhibitors (Hsp90i) was tested in vitro. The ability of a transcriptional signature to predict Hsp90i sensitivity was validated using cell lines, and cell line- and patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models. Mechanisms of Hsp90i sensitivity were uncovered using immunoblot and RNAi.

Results: Transcriptomic analyses of breast and ovarian cancer cell lines uncovered two mixed subgroups comprised primarily of triple-negative breast and multiple ovarian cancer subtypes. Drug sensitivity analyses revealed that cells of one mixed subgroup are significantly more sensitive to Hsp90i compared with cells from all other cancer lineages evaluated. A gene expression classifier was generated that predicted Hsp90i sensitivity in vitro, and in cell line- and PDXs. Cells from the Hsp90i-sensitive subgroup underwent apoptosis mediated by Hsp90i-induced upregulation of the proapoptotic proteins Bim and PUMA.

Conclusions: Our findings identify Hsp90i as a potential therapeutic strategy for a transcriptionally defined subgroup of ovarian and breast cancers. This study demonstrates that gene expression profiles may be useful to identify therapeutic vulnerabilities in tumor types with limited targetable genetic alterations, and to identify molecularly definable cancer subgroups that transcend lineage.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / classification
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / classification
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins