p53 deficiency induces cancer stem cell pool expansion in a mouse model of triple-negative breast tumors
Triple-negative breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease characterized by the expression of basal cell markers, no estrogen or progesterone receptor expression and a lack of HER2 overexpression. Triple-negative tumors often display activated Wnt/β-catenin signaling and most have impaired p53 function. We studied the interplay between p53 loss and Wnt/β-catenin signaling in stem cell function and tumorigenesis, by deleting p53 from the mammary epithelium of K5ΔNβcat mice displaying a constitutive activation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in basal cells. K5ΔNβcat transgenic mice present amplification of the basal stem cell pool and develop triple-negative mammary carcinomas. The loss of p53 in K5ΔNβcat mice led to an early expansion of mammary stem/progenitor cells and accelerated the formation of triple-negative tumors. In particular, p53-deficient tumors expressed high levels of integrins and extracellular matrix components and were enriched in cancer stem cells. They also overexpressed the tyrosine kinase receptor Met, a feature characteristic of human triple-negative breast tumors. The inhibition of Met kinase activity impaired tumorsphere formation, demonstrating the requirement of Met signaling for cancer stem cell growth in this model. Human basallike breast cancers with predicted mutated p53 status had higher levels of MET expression than tumors with wild-type p53. These results connect p53 loss and β-catenin activation to stem cell regulation and tumorigenesis in triple-negative cancer and highlight the role of Met signaling in maintaining cancer stem cell properties, revealing new cues for targeted therapies.