Epigenetic targeting of neuropilin-1 prevents bypass signaling in drug-resistant breast cancer

Oncogene. 2021 Jan;40(2):322-333. doi: 10.1038/s41388-020-01530-6. Epub 2020 Oct 30.


Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-amplified breast cancers are treated using targeted antibodies and kinase inhibitors, but resistance to these therapies leads to systemic tumor recurrence of metastatic disease. Herein, we conducted gene expression analyses of HER2 kinase inhibitor-resistant cell lines as compared to their drug-sensitive counterparts. These data demonstrate the induction of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which included enhanced expression of fibroblast growth factor receptor 1 (FGFR1) and axonal guidance molecules known as neuropilins (NRPs). Immunoprecipitation of FGFR1 coupled with mass spectroscopy indicated that FGFR1 forms a physical complex with NRPs, which is enhanced upon induction of EMT. Confocal imaging revealed that FGFR1 and NRP1 predominantly interact throughout the cytoplasm. Along these lines, short hairpin RNA-mediated depletion of NRP1, but not the use of NRP1-blocking antibodies, inhibited FGFR signaling and reduced tumor cell growth in vitro and in vivo. Our results further indicate that NRP1 upregulation during EMT is mediated via binding of the chromatin reader protein, bromodomain containing 4 (BRD4) in the NRP1 proximal promoter region. Pharmacological inhibition of BRD4 decreased NRP1 expression and ablated FGF-mediated tumor cell growth. Overall, our studies indicate that NRPs facilitate aberrant growth factor signaling during EMT-associated drug resistance and metastasis. Pharmacological combination of epigenetic modulators with FGFR-targeted kinase inhibitors may provide improved outcomes for breast cancer patients with drug-resistant metastatic disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neuropilin-1 / genetics
  • Neuropilin-1 / metabolism*
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Receptor, Fibroblast Growth Factor, Type 1 / genetics
  • Receptor, Fibroblast Growth Factor, Type 1 / metabolism
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • NRP1 protein, human
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Neuropilin-1
  • FGFR1 protein, human
  • Receptor, Fibroblast Growth Factor, Type 1