FOXM1 recruits nuclear Aurora kinase A to participate in a positive feedback loop essential for the self-renewal of breast cancer stem cells

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Substantial evidence suggests that breast cancer initiation, recurrence and drug resistance is supported by breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs). Recently, we reported a novel role of Aurora kinase A (AURKA) in BCSCs, as a transactivating co-factor in the induction of the c-Myc oncoprotein. However, the mode of action and transcriptional network of nuclear AURKA in BCSCs remain unknown. Here, we report that nuclear AURKA can be recruited by Forkhead box subclass M1 (FOXM1) as a co-factor to transactivate FOXM1 target genes in a kinase-independent manner. In addition, we show that AURKA and FOXM1 participate in a tightly coupled positive feedback loop to enhance BCSC phenotype. Indeed, kinase-dead AURKA can effectively transactivate the FOXM1 promoter through a Forkhead response element, whereas FOXM1 can activate AURKA expression at the transcriptional level in a similar manner. Consistently, breast cancer patient samples portrayed a strong and significant correlation between the expression levels of FOXM1 and AURKA. Moreover, both FOXM1 and AURKA were essential for maintaining the BCSC population. Finally, we demonstrated that the AURKA inhibitor AKI603 and FOXM1 inhibitor thiostrepton acted synergistically to inhibit cytoplasmic AURKA activity and disrupt the nuclear AURKA/FOXM1-positive feedback loop, respectively, resulting in a more effective inhibition of the tumorigenicity and self-renewal ability of BCSCs. Collectively, our study uncovers a previously unknown tightly coupled positive feedback signalling loop between AURKA and FOXM1, crucial for BCSC self-renewal. Remarkably, our data reveal a novel potential therapeutic strategy for targeting both the cytoplasmic and nuclear AURKA function to effectively eliminate BCSCs, so as to overcome both breast cancer and drug resistance.

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