Chemotherapy-Induced Extracellular Vesicle miRNAs Promote Breast Cancer Stemness by Targeting ONECUT2.


Department of Pathology, University of California, San Diego; La Jolla, California. [Email]


Cancer-secreted, extracellular vesicle (EV)-encapsulated miRNAs enable cancer cells to communicate with each other and with noncancerous cells in tumor pathogenesis and response to therapies. Here, we show that treatment with a sublethal dose of chemotherapeutic agents induces breast cancer cells to secrete EV with the capacity to stimulate a cancer stem-like cell (CSC) phenotype, rendering cancer cells resistance to therapy. Chemotherapy induced breast cancer cells to secrete multiple EV miRNAs, including miR-9-5p, miR-195-5p, and miR-203a-3p, which simultaneously targeted the transcription factor One Cut Homeobox 2 (ONECUT2), leading to induction of CSC traits and expression of stemness-associated genes, including NOTCH1, SOX9, NANOG, OCT4, and SOX2. Inhibition of these miRNAs or restoration of ONECUT2 expression abolished the CSC-stimulating effect of EV from chemotherapy-treated cancer cells. In mice bearing xenograft mammary tumors, docetaxel treatment caused elevations of miR-9-5p, miR-195-5p, and miR-203a-3p in circulating EV and decreased ONECUT2 expression and increased levels of stemness-associated genes. These effects following chemotherapy were diminished in tumors deficient in exosome secretion. In human breast tumors, neoadjuvant chemotherapy decreased ONECUT2 expression in tumor cells. Our results indicate a mechanism by which cancer cells communicate with each other and self-adapt to survive in response to cytotoxic treatment. Targeting these adaptation mechanisms along with chemotherapy, such as by blocking the EV miRNA-ONECUT2 axis, represents a potential strategy to maximize the anticancer effect of chemotherapy and to reduce chemoresistance in cancer management. SIGNIFICANCE: These findings reveal a critical mechanism of resistance to chemotherapy by which breast cancer cells secrete miRNA-containing extracellular vesicles to stimulate cancer stem cell-like features.

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