Protein Aggregation Patterns Inform about Breast Cancer Response to Antiestrogens and Reveal the RNA Ligase RTCB as Mediator of Acquired Tamoxifen Resistance

Cancers (Basel). 2021 Jun 26;13(13):3195. doi: 10.3390/cancers13133195.


The protein quality control network, including autophagy, the proteasome and the unfolded protein response (UPR), is triggered by stress and is overactive in acquired antiestrogen therapy resistance. We show for the first time that the aggresome load correlates with apoptosis and is increased in antiestrogen-sensitive cells compared to endocrine-resistant variants. LC-MS/MS analysis of the aggregated proteins obtained after 4OH-tamoxifen and Fulvestrant treatment identified proteins with essential function in protein quality control in antiestrogen-sensitive cells, but not in resistant variants. These include the UPR modulators RTCB and PDIA6, as well as many proteasome proteins such as PSMC2 and PSMD11. RTCB is a tRNA and XBP1 ligase and its aggregation induced by antiestrogens correlated with impaired XBP1s expression in sensitive cells. Knock down of RTCB was sufficient to restore sensitivity to tamoxifen in endocrine-resistant cells and increased the formation of aggresomes, leading to apoptotic cell death. Analysis of primary human breast cancer samples and their metastases appearing after endocrine treatment showed that RTCB is only localized to aggresomes in the primary tumors, while total aggresomes, including aggregated RTCB, were significantly reduced in the metastases. Therefore, different protein aggregation patterns may indicate loss of function of essential proteins resulting in enhanced protein aggregation that can be used to identify antiestrogen-resistant breast cancer cells and improve the response to antiestrogenic therapy.

Keywords: antiestrogen resistance; breast cancer; estrogen receptors; protein aggregation; tRNA-splicing ligase RTCB homolog (RTCB).