PGR-KITLG signaling drives a tumor-mast cell regulatory feedback to modulate apoptosis of breast cancer cells

Cancer Lett. 2024 May 1:589:216795. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2024.216795. Epub 2024 Mar 30.


The immune microenvironment constructed by tumor-infiltrating immune cells and the molecular phenotype defined by hormone receptors (HRs) have been implicated as decisive factors in the regulation of breast cancer (BC) progression. Here, we found that the infiltration of mast cells (MCs) informed impaired prognoses in HR(+) BC but predicted improved prognoses in HR(-) BC. However, molecular features of MCs in different BC remain unclear. We next discovered that HR(-) BC cells were prone to apoptosis under the stimulation of MCs, whereas HR(+) BC cells exerted anti-apoptotic effects. Mechanistically, in HR(+) BC, the KIT ligand (KITLG), a major mast cell growth factor in recruiting and activating MCs, could be transcriptionally upregulated by the progesterone receptor (PGR), and elevate the production of MC-derived granulin (GRN). GRN attenuates TNFα-induced apoptosis in BC cells by competitively binding to TNFR1. Furthermore, disruption of PGR-KITLG signaling by knocking down PGR or using the specific KITLG-cKIT inhibitor iSCK03 potently enhanced the sensitivity of HR(+) BC cells to MC-induced apoptosis and exerted anti-tumor activity. Collectively, these results demonstrate that PGR-KITLG signaling in BC cells preferentially induces GRN expression in MCs to exert anti-apoptotic effects, with potential value in developing precision medicine approaches for diagnosis and treatment.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Breast cancer; GRN; Mast cells; PGR-KITLG signaling.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Breast Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mast Cells / pathology
  • Stem Cell Factor* / genetics
  • Stem Cell Factor* / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Stem Cell Factor