Cancer-derived exosomal miR-138-5p modulates polarization of tumor-associated macrophages through inhibition of KDM6B

Theranostics. 2021 May 3;11(14):6847-6859. doi: 10.7150/thno.51864. eCollection 2021.


Rationale: Differential activation of macrophages correlates closely with tumor progression, and the epigenetic factor lysine demethylase 6B (KDM6B, previously named JMJD3) mediates the regulation of macrophage polarization through an unknown mechanism. Methods: We developed a suspension coculture system comprising breast cancer cells and macrophages and used RT-qPCR and western blotting to measure KDM6B expression. Bioinformatics and luciferase reporter assays were used to identify candidate microRNAs of cancer cells responsible for the downregulation of KDM6B. To determine if exosomes mediated the transfer of miR-138-5p between cancer cells to macrophages, we treated macrophages with exosomes collected from the conditioned medium of cancer cells. The effects of exosomal miR-138-5p on macrophage polarization were measured using RT-qPCR, flow cytometry, and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays. We employed a mouse model of breast cancer, metastatic to the lung, to evaluate the effects on tumor metastasis of macrophages treated with miR-138-5p-enriched exosomes. To develop a diagnostic evaluation index, the levels of exosomal miR-138-5p in samples from patients with breast cancer were compared to those of controls. Results: Coculture of breast cancer cells led to downregulation of KDM6B expression in macrophages. Cancer cell-derived exosomal miR-138-5p inhibited M1 polarization and promoted M2 polarization through inhibition of KDM6B expression in macrophages. Macrophages treated with exosomal miR-138-5p promoted lung metastasis, and the level of circulating exosomal miR-138-5p positively correlated with the progression of breast cancer. Conclusion: Our data suggest that miR-138-5p was delivered from breast cancer cells to tumor-associated macrophages via exosomes to downregulate KDM6B expression, inhibit M1 polarization, and stimulate M2 polarization. Therefore, exosomal miR-138-5p represents a promising prognostic marker and target for the treatment of breast cancer.

Keywords: exosomes; lysine demethylase 6B (KDM6B); macrophage polarization; microRNA-138-5p; tumor-associated macrophages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Down-Regulation
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Humans
  • Jumonji Domain-Containing Histone Demethylases / genetics
  • Jumonji Domain-Containing Histone Demethylases / metabolism*
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / genetics
  • Tumor-Associated Macrophages / metabolism*


  • MIRN138 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • Jumonji Domain-Containing Histone Demethylases
  • KDM6B protein, human
  • Kdm6b protein, mouse