There is strong evidence that stromal cells promote drug resistance of cancer. Here, we show that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and carcinoma-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) desensitize ERa-positive breast cancer cells to the anti-estrogen fulvestrant. In search for the mechanism, we found that MSCs and CAFs similarly increased the activity of the PI3K/AKT and the JAK/STAT3 pathways and upregulated the expression of integrin ß1, IGF1R, HIF1α, CAIX and Bcl-3 in MCF-7 cells. Further analyses revealed that MSCs and CAFs coordinately induce these changes by triggering the downregulation of IGFBP5. Loss of IGFBP5 in MCF-7 cells was an early and long-lasting event in response to MSCs and CAFs and was accompanied by growth stimulation both in the absence and presence of fulvestrant. The growth-stimulatory effect in the absence of fulvestrant could be attributed to PI3K/AKT pathway activation and could be mimicked by insulin. The growth-promoting effect in the presence of fulvestrant depended upon the upregulation of Bcl-3. By cRNA microarray analysis we identified additional IGFBP5 targets, of which two (KLHL4 and SEPP1) were inversely regulated by IGFBP5 and Bcl-3. BT474 cells also responded to stromal cells by downregulating IGFBP5 and upregulating the P-AKT, Bcl-3 and IGF1R levels, whereas T47D cells did not show any of these responses. In conclusion, our data suggest that, by targeting IGFBP5 expression in ERa-positive breast cancer cells, such as MCF-7 cells, MSCs and CAFs are able to orchestrate a variety of events, particularly activation of the PI3K/AKT pathway, upregulation of Bcl-3 expression and desensitization to anti-estrogen.

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Department of Medical Oncology

Leyh, B., Dittmer, A., Lange, T., Martens, J. W. M., & Dittmer, A. (2015). Stromal cells promote anti-estrogen resistance of breast cancer cells through an insulin-like growth factor binding protein 5 (IGFBP5)/B-cell leukemia/lymphoma 3 (Bcl-3) axis. Oncotarget, 6(36), 39307–39328. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.5624