The BH3-only protein NOXA serves as an independent predictor of breast cancer patient survival and defines susceptibility to microtubule targeting agents

Cell Death Dis. 2021 Dec 13;12(12):1151. doi: 10.1038/s41419-021-04415-y.


Breast cancer (BC) treatment frequently involves microtubule-targeting agents (MTAs), such as paclitaxel, that arrest cells in mitosis. Sensitivity to MTAs is defined by a subset of pro- and anti-apoptotic BCL2 family proteins controlling mitochondrial apoptosis. Here, we aimed to determine their prognostic value in primary tumour samples from 92 BC patients. Our analysis identified high NOXA/PMAIP mRNA expression levels as an independent prognostic marker for improved relapse-free survival (RFS) and overall survival (OS) in multivariate analysis in BC patients, independent of their molecular subtype. Analysis of available TCGA datasets of 1060 BC patients confirmed our results and added a clear predictive value of NOXA mRNA levels for patients who received MTA-based therapy. In this TCGA cohort, 122 patients received MTA-treatment and high NOXA mRNA levels correlated with their progression-free interval (PFI) and OS. Our follow-up analyses in a panel of BC cell lines of different molecular subtypes identified NOXA protein expression as a key determinant of paclitaxel sensitivity in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) cells. Moreover, we noted highest additive effects between paclitaxel and chemical inhibition of BCLX, but not BCL2 or MCL1, documenting dependence of TNBC cells on BCLX for survival and paclitaxel sensitivity defined by NOXA expression levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Humans
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Paclitaxel / therapeutic use
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2* / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms* / pathology


  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • PMAIP1 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Paclitaxel