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Rationale: NOTCH4 receptor has been implicated in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) development and breast cancer stem cell (BCSC) regulation. However, the potential of NOTCH4 as a BCSC marker and the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Methods: In this study, we determined the expression and activation of NOTCH4 in breast cancer cell lines and tumor samples by qRT-PCR, western blotting and immunohistochemistry. Subsequently, in vitro and in vivo serial dilution experiments were performed to demonstrate the application of NOTCH4 as an efficient mesenchymal-like (ML)-BCSC marker in TNBC. Stable overexpression of activated NOTCH4 and knockdown cell lines were established using lentivirus. RNA-seq and qRT-PCR were employed to reveal the downstream effectors of NOTCH4, followed by dual-luciferase reporter and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays to identify the genuine binding sites of NOTCH4 on SLUG and GAS1 promoters. Transwell assay, mammosphere formation and chemoresistance experiments were performed to determine the effects of SLUG, GAS1 and NOTCH4 on the mesenchymal-like characteristics of TNBC cells. Survival analysis was used to study the relation of NOTCH4, SLUG and GAS1 with prognosis of breast cancer. Results: NOTCH4 is aberrantly highly expressed and activated in TNBC, which contributes to the maintenance of ML-BCSCs. Furthermore, NOTCH4 shows significantly higher efficiency in labeling ML-BCSCs than the currently commonly used CD24-CD44+ marker. Mechanistically, NOTCH4 transcriptionally upregulates SLUG and GAS1 to promote EMT and quiescence in TNBC, respectively. The effects of NOTCH4 can be mimicked by simultaneous overexpression of SLUG and GAS1. Moreover, SLUG is also involved in harnessing GAS1, a known tumor suppressor gene, via its anti-apoptotic function. Conclusions: Our findings reveal that the NOTCH4-SLUG-GAS1 circuit serves as a potential target for tumor intervention by overcoming stemness of ML-BCSCs and by conquering the lethal chemoresistance and metastasis of TNBC. © The author(s).


Lei Zhou, Dong Wang, Dandan Sheng, Jiahui Xu, Weilong Chen, Yuanyuan Qin, Ruikai Du, Xiaoli Yang, Xueyan He, Ni Xie, Suling Liu, Lixing Zhang. NOTCH4 maintains quiescent mesenchymal-like breast cancer stem cells via transcriptionally activating SLUG and GAS1 in triple-negative breast cancer. Theranostics. 2020;10(5):2405-2421

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PMID: 32104513

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