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NPJ Breast Cancer. 2018 Aug 30;4:29. doi: 10.1038/s41523-018-0080-8. eCollection 2018.

NF1 deficiency correlates with estrogen receptor signaling and diminished survival in breast cancer.

Author information

1Center for Cancer and Cell Biology, Van Andel Research Institute, Grand Rapids, MI USA.
2Bioinformatics & Biostatistics Core, Van Andel Research Institute, Grand Rapids, MI USA.
3Department of Genetics, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL USA.
4Vivarium and Transgenics Core, Van Andel Research Institute, Grand Rapids, MI USA.
5Rodent Histopathology Core Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA USA.
6Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, Spectrum Health System, Grand Rapids, MI USA.
Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Grand Rapids, MI USA.
Contributed equally


The key negative regulatory gene of the RAS pathway, NF1, is mutated or deleted in numerous cancer types and is associated with increased cancer risk and drug resistance. Even though women with neurofibromatosis (germline NF1 mutations) have a substantially increased breast cancer risk at a young age and NF1 is commonly mutated in sporadic breast cancers, we have a limited understanding of the role of NF1 in breast cancer. We utilized CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to create Nf1 rat models to evaluate the effect of Nf1 deficiency on tumorigenesis. The resulting Nf1 indels induced highly penetrant, aggressive mammary adenocarcinomas that express estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR). We identified distinct Nf1 mRNA and protein isoforms that were altered during tumorigenesis. To evaluate NF1 in human breast cancer, we analyzed genomic changes in a data set of 2000 clinically annotated breast cancers. We found NF1 shallow deletions in 25% of sporadic breast cancers, which correlated with poor clinical outcome. To identify biological networks impacted by NF1 deficiency, we constructed gene co-expression networks using weighted gene correlation network analysis (WGCNA) and identified a network connected to ESR1 (estrogen receptor). Moreover, NF1-deficient cancers correlated with established RAS activation signatures. Estrogen-dependence was verified by estrogen-ablation in Nf1 rats where rapid tumor regression was observed. Additionally, Nf1 deficiency correlated with increased estrogen receptor phosphorylation in mammary adenocarcinomas. These results demonstrate a significant role for NF1 in both NF1-related breast cancer and sporadic breast cancer, and highlight a potential functional link between neurofibromin and the estrogen receptor.

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