• PAK4 regulates stemness and progression in endocrine resistant ER-positive metastatic breast cancer

      Santiago-Gómez, Angélica; Kedward, T; Simoes, Bruno M; Dragoni, I; NicAmhlaoibh, R; Trivier, E; Sabin, V; Gee, J; Sims, A; Howell, Sacha J; et al. (2019)
      Despite the effectiveness of endocrine therapies to treat estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast tumours, two thirds of patients will eventually relapse due to de novo or acquired resistance to these agents. Cancer Stem-like Cells (CSCs), a rare cell population within the tumour, accumulate after anti-estrogen treatments and are likely to contribute to their failure. Here we studied the role of p21-activated kinase 4 (PAK4) as a promising target to overcome endocrine resistance and disease progression in ER + breast cancers. PAK4 predicts for resistance to tamoxifen and poor prognosis in 2 independent cohorts of ER + tumours. We observed that PAK4 strongly correlates with CSC activity in metastatic patient-derived samples irrespective of breast cancer subtype. However, PAK4-driven mammosphere-forming CSC activity increases alongside progression only in ER + metastatic samples. PAK4 activity increases in ER + models of acquired resistance to endocrine therapies. Targeting PAK4 with either CRT PAKi, a small molecule inhibitor of PAK4, or with specific siRNAs abrogates CSC activity/self-renewal in clinical samples and endocrine-resistant cells. Together, our findings establish that PAK4 regulates stemness during disease progression and that its inhibition reverses endocrine resistance in ER + breast cancers.