Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.) 2018 04 0220(5) 489-498 pii 10.1016/j.neo.2018.03.004
The transcription factor STAT3 is activated inappropriately in 70% of breast cancers, most commonly in triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). Although the transcriptional function of STAT3 is essential for tumorigenesis, the key target genes regulated by STAT3 in driving tumor pathogenesis have remained unclear. To identify critical STAT3 target genes, we treated TNBC cell lines with two different compounds that block STAT3 transcriptional function, pyrimethamine and PMPTP. We then performed gene expression analysis to identify genes whose expression is strongly down-regulated by both STAT3 inhibitors. Foremost among the down-regulated genes was TNFRSF1A, which encodes a transmembrane receptor for TNFα. We showed that STAT3 binds directly to a regulatory region within the TNFRSF1A gene, and that TNFRSF1A levels are dependent on STAT3 function in both constitutive and cytokine-induced models of STAT3 activation. Furthermore, TNFRSF1A is a major mediator of both basal and TNFα-induced NF-κB activity in breast cancer cells. We extended these findings to primary human breast cancers, in which we found that high TNFRSF1A transcript levels correlated with STAT3 activation. In addition, and consistent with a causal role, increased TNFRSF1A expression was associated with an NF-κB gene expression in signature in breast cancers. Thus, TNFRSF1A is a STAT3 target gene that regulates the NF-κB pathway. These findings reveal a novel functional crosstalk between STAT3 and NF-κB signaling in breast cancer. Furthermore, elevated TNFRSF1A levels may predict a subset of breast tumors that are sensitive to STAT3 transcriptional inhibitors, and may be a biomarker for response to inhibition of this pathway.