The RB-IL-6 axis controls self-renewal and endocrine therapy resistance by fine-tuning mitochondrial activity

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Retinoblastoma (RB) protein inactivation during tumor progression is often associated with acquisition of immature phenotypes and resistance to therapy. Determination of an RB inactivation signature in a context of gaining undifferentiated phenotype in a p53-null sarcoma system revealed a critical role for interleukin (IL)-6. Using a Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA), we discovered that poorly differentiated breast cancers are enriched for this RB inactivation signature. Accelerated IL-6 secretion following RB inactivation in an RB-intact luminal-type breast cancer cell line MCF-7 promoted a positive feed forward loop between IL-6 and STAT3 driving tumor growth and endocrine therapy resistance. In addition, some of RB-intact basal-like type breast cancer cell lines exhibited a similar phenotype following RB depletion. The mechanism whereby RB inactivation increases IL-6 production in MCF-7 cells appeared to involve fatty acid oxidation (FAO)-dependent mitochondrial metabolism and c-Jun NH(2)-terminal kinase (JNK). In addition, IL-6, via STAT3-mediated feedback to mitochondria, autonomously adjusts mitochondrial superoxide to levels suitable to maintain stem cell-like activity. The gene expression profile of luminal-type breast cancer patients with low RB expression revealed high enrichment of genes involved in mitochondrial respiration and downstream targets of IL-6. These findings unveiled an unexpected strategy whereby RB suppresses malignant features of cancer cells through metabolic reprogramming and cell-autonomous inflammation.

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