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Mol Oncol. 2019 Apr;13(4):894-908. doi: 10.1002/1878-0261.12444. Epub 2019 Mar 1.

Obesity-induced MBD2_v2 expression promotes tumor-initiating triple-negative breast cancer stem cells.

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Department of Oncology, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI, USA.
Department of Computer Science, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA.


Obesity is a risk factor for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) incidence and poor outcomes, but the underlying molecular biology remains unknown. We previously identified in TNBC cell cultures that expression of epigenetic reader methyl-CpG-binding domain protein 2 (MBD2), specifically the alternative mRNA splicing variant MBD variant 2 (MBD2_v2), is dependent on reactive oxygen species (ROS) and is crucial for maintenance and expansion of cancer stem cell-like cells (CSCs). Because obesity is coupled with inflammation and ROS, we hypothesized that obesity can fuel an increase in MBD2_v2 expression to promote the tumor-initiating CSC phenotype in TNBC cells in vivo. Analysis of TNBC patient datasets revealed associations between high tumor MBD2_v2 expression and high relapse rates and high body mass index (BMI). Stable gene knockdown/overexpression methods were applied to TNBC cell lines to elucidate that MBD2_v2 expression is governed by ROS-dependent expression of serine- and arginine-rich splicing factor 2 (SRSF2). We employed a diet-induced obesity (DIO) mouse model that mimics human obesity to investigate whether obesity causes increased MBD2_v2 expression and increased tumor initiation capacity in inoculated TNBC cell lines. MBD2_v2 and SRSF2 levels were increased in TNBC cell line-derived tumors that formed more frequently in DIO mice relative to tumors in lean control mice. Stable MBD2_v2 overexpression increased the CSC fraction in culture and increased TNBC cell line tumor initiation capacity in vivo. SRSF2 knockdown resulted in decreased MBD2_v2 expression, decreased CSCs in TNBC cell cultures, and hindered tumor formation in vivo. This report describes evidence to support the conclusion that MBD2_v2 expression is induced by obesity and drives TNBC cell tumorigenicity, and thus provides molecular insights into support of the epidemiological evidence that obesity is a risk factor for TNBC. The majority of TNBC patients are obese and rising obesity rates threaten to further increase the burden of obesity-linked cancers, which reinforces the relevance of this report.


MBD2; MBD2_v2; SRSF2; cancer stem cell-like cells; obesity; triple-negative breast cancer

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