Host CLIC4 expression in the tumor microenvironment is essential for breast cancer metastatic competence

PLoS Genet. 2022 Jun 21;18(6):e1010271. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1010271. eCollection 2022 Jun.


The TGF-β-regulated Chloride Intracellular Channel 4 (CLIC4) is an essential participant in the formation of breast cancer stroma. Here, we used data available from the TCGA and METABRIC datasets to show that CLIC4 expression was higher in breast cancers from younger women and those with early-stage metastatic disease. Elevated CLIC4 predicted poor outcome in breast cancer patients and was linked to the TGF-β pathway. However, these associations did not reveal the underlying biological contribution of CLIC4 to breast cancer progression. Constitutive ablation of host Clic4 in two murine metastatic breast cancer models nearly eliminated lung metastases without reducing primary tumor weight, while tumor cells ablated of Clic4 retained metastatic capability in wildtype hosts. Thus, CLIC4 was required for host metastatic competence. Pre- and post-metastatic proteomic analysis identified circulating pro-metastatic soluble factors that differed in tumor-bearing CLIC4-deficient and wildtype hosts. Vascular abnormalities and necrosis increased in primary tumors from CLIC4-deficient hosts. Transcriptional profiles of both primary tumors and pre-metastatic lungs of tumor-bearing CLIC4-deficient hosts were consistent with a microenvironment where inflammatory pathways were elevated. Altogether, CLIC4 expression in human breast cancers may serve as a prognostic biomarker; therapeutic targeting of CLIC4 could reduce primary tumor viability and host metastatic competence.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Chloride Channels* / biosynthesis
  • Chloride Channels* / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Proteomics
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • CLIC4 protein, human
  • Chloride Channels
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta