Chromatin insulation orchestrates matrix metalloproteinase gene cluster expression reprogramming in aggressive breast cancer tumors

Mol Cancer. 2023 Nov 28;22(1):190. doi: 10.1186/s12943-023-01906-8.


Background: Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive subtype that exhibits a high incidence of distant metastases and lacks targeted therapeutic options. Here we explored how the epigenome contributes to matrix metalloprotease (MMP) dysregulation impacting tumor invasion, which is the first step of the metastatic process.

Methods: We combined RNA expression and chromatin interaction data to identify insulator elements potentially associated with MMP gene expression and invasion. We employed CRISPR/Cas9 to disrupt the CCCTC-Binding Factor (CTCF) binding site on an insulator element downstream of the MMP8 gene (IE8) in two TNBC cellular models. We characterized these models by combining Hi-C, ATAC-seq, and RNA-seq with functional experiments to determine invasive ability. The potential of our findings to predict the progression of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), was tested in data from clinical specimens.

Results: We explored the clinical relevance of an insulator element located within the Chr11q22.2 locus, downstream of the MMP8 gene (IE8). This regulatory element resulted in a topologically associating domain (TAD) boundary that isolated nine MMP genes into two anti-correlated expression clusters. This expression pattern was associated with worse relapse-free (HR = 1.57 [1.06 - 2.33]; p = 0.023) and overall (HR = 2.65 [1.31 - 5.37], p = 0.005) survival of TNBC patients. After CRISPR/Cas9-mediated disruption of IE8, cancer cells showed a switch in the MMP expression signature, specifically downregulating the pro-invasive MMP1 gene and upregulating the antitumorigenic MMP8 gene, resulting in reduced invasive ability and collagen degradation. We observed that the MMP expression pattern predicts DCIS that eventually progresses into invasive ductal carcinomas (AUC = 0.77, p < 0.01).

Conclusion: Our study demonstrates how the activation of an IE near the MMP8 gene determines the regional transcriptional regulation of MMP genes with opposing functional activity, ultimately influencing the invasive properties of aggressive forms of breast cancer.

Keywords: ATAC-seq; Breast cancer; CTCF; Chromatin; Gene regulatory element; Hi-C; Insulator; Invasion; MMP1; MMP8; RNA-seq; cis-regulatory element.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating* / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating* / pathology
  • Chromatin
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 8 / genetics
  • Multigene Family
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / genetics
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms* / genetics


  • Chromatin
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 8