A Positive Feedback Loop Between TGFβ and Androgen Receptor Supports Triple-negative Breast Cancer Anoikis Resistance

Endocrinology. 2021 Feb 1;162(2):bqaa226. doi: 10.1210/endocr/bqaa226.


Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive subtype with peak recurrence as metastatic disease within the first few years of diagnosis. Androgen receptor (AR) expression is increased in anchorage-independent cells in TNBC preclinical models. Both AR knockdown and inhibition lead to reduced TNBC invasion in vitro, reduced tumorigenicity, and less recurrence in vivo in preclinical models. Transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) pathway gene signatures also increased during anchorage-independent survival both in vitro and in vivo in preclinical models and in circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from patients during emergence of chemo resistant disease. We hypothesized that a positive loop between AR and TGFβ signaling facilitates TNBC anchorage-independent survival. We find that multiple components of the TGFβ pathway, including TGFβ1 and 3, as well as pathway activity measured by nuclear localization and transcriptional activity of phosphorylated Smad3, are enhanced in anchorage-independent conditions. Further, exogenous TGFβ increased AR protein while TGFβ inhibition decreased AR and TNBC viability, particularly under anchorage-independent culture conditions. ChIP-seq experiments revealed AR binding to TGFB1 and SMAD3 regulatory regions in MDA-MB-453 cells. In clinical datasets, TGFB3 and AR positively correlate and high expression of both genes together corresponded to significantly worse recurrence-free and overall survival in both ER-negative and basal-like breast cancer. Finally, inhibiting both AR and TGFβ decreased cell survival, particularly under anchorage-independent conditions. These findings warrant further investigations into whether combined inhibition of AR and TGFβ pathways might decrease metastatic recurrence rates and mortality from TNBC.

Keywords: LY2109761; LY2157299; TGFβ; androgen receptor; anoikis resistance; enzalutamide; triple negative breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anoikis*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / etiology*
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1 / metabolism*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / mortality


  • Receptors, Androgen
  • TGFB1 protein, human
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1