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Stem Cells. 2012 Jul;30(7):1338-48. doi: 10.1002/stem.1128.

Targeting p90 ribosomal S6 kinase eliminates tumor-initiating cells by inactivating Y-box binding protein-1 in triple-negative breast cancers.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


Y-box binding protein-1 (YB-1) is the first reported oncogenic transcription factor to induce the tumor-initiating cell (TIC) surface marker CD44 in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) cells. In order for CD44 to be induced, YB-1 must be phosphorylated at S102 by p90 ribosomal S6 kinase (RSK). We therefore questioned whether RSK might be a tractable molecular target to eliminate TICs. In support of this idea, injection of MDA-MB-231 cells expressing Flag-YB-1 into mice increased tumor growth as well as enhanced CD44 expression. Despite enrichment for TICs, these cells were sensitive to RSK inhibition when treated ex vivo with BI-D1870. Targeting RSK2 with small interfering RNA (siRNA) or small molecule RSK kinase inhibitors (SL0101 and BI-D1870) blocked TNBC monolayer cell growth by ∼100%. In a diverse panel of breast tumor cell line models RSK2 siRNA predominantly targeted models of TNBC. RSK2 inhibition decreased CD44 promoter activity, CD44 mRNA, protein expression, and mammosphere formation. CD44(+) cells had higher P-RSK(S221/227) , P-YB-1(S102) , and mitotic activity relative to CD44(-) cells. Importantly, RSK2 inhibition specifically suppressed the growth of TICs and triggered cell death. Moreover, silencing RSK2 delayed tumor initiation in mice. In patients, RSK2 mRNA was associated with poor disease-free survival in a cohort of 244 women with breast cancer that had not received adjuvant treatment, and its expression was highest in the basal-like breast cancer subtype. Taking this further, we report that P-RSK(S221/227) is present in primary TNBCs and correlates with P-YB-1(S102) as well as CD44. In conclusion, RSK2 inhibition provides a novel therapeutic avenue for TNBC and holds the promise of eliminating TICs.

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