The miR-181a-SFRP4 Axis Regulates Wnt Activation to Drive Stemness and Platinum Resistance in Ovarian Cancer

Cancer Res. 2021 Apr 15;81(8):2044-2055. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-20-2041. Epub 2021 Feb 11.


Wnt signaling is a major driver of stemness and chemoresistance in ovarian cancer, yet the genetic drivers that stimulate its expression remain largely unknown. Unlike other cancers, mutations in the Wnt pathway are not reported in high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC). Hence, a key challenge that must be addressed to develop effective targeted therapies is to identify nonmutational drivers of Wnt activation. Using an miRNA sensor-based approach, we have identified miR-181a as a novel driver of Wnt/β-catenin signaling. miR-181ahigh primary HGSOC cells exhibited increased Wnt/β-catenin signaling, which was associated with increased stem-cell frequency and platinum resistance. Consistent with these findings, inhibition of β-catenin decreased stem-like properties in miR-181ahigh cell populations and downregulated miR-181a. The Wnt inhibitor SFRP4 was identified as a novel target of miR-181a. Overall, our results demonstrate that miR-181a is a nonmutational activator of Wnt signaling that drives stemness and chemoresistance in HGSOC, suggesting that the miR-181a-SFRP4 axis can be evaluated as a novel biomarker for β-catenin-targeted therapy in this disease. SIGNIFICANCE: These results demonstrate that miR-181a is an activator of Wnt signaling that drives stemness and chemoresistance in HGSOC and may be targeted therapeutically in recurrent disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cisplatin / pharmacology
  • Down-Regulation
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • MicroRNAs / physiology*
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasm Grading
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / physiology*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway / genetics
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway / physiology*
  • beta Catenin / antagonists & inhibitors
  • beta Catenin / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • CTNNB1 protein, human
  • MIrn181 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • SFRP4 protein, human
  • beta Catenin
  • Cisplatin