Breast cancer relapse can develop over the course of years as a result of dormant cancer cells that disseminate to secondary sites. These dormant cells are often resistant to conventional hormone and chemotherapy. Although recurrence is the main cause of death from cancer, microenvironmental factors that may influence resistance to therapy and duration of dormancy are largely unknown. Breast cancer relapse is often detected in tissues that are softer than the normal mammary gland or the primary breast tumor, such as bone marrow, brain, and lung. We therefore explored how stiffness of the microenvironment at secondary sites regulates tumor dormancy and the response of breast cancer cells to hormone and chemotherapy. In soft microenvironments reminiscent of metastatic sites, breast cancer cells were more resistant to the estrogen receptor modulator tamoxifen as a result of increased autophagy and decreased expression of estrogen receptor-a. Consistently, pharmacologic inhibition or genetic downregulation of autophagy increased the response of breast cancer cells to tamoxifen on soft substrata. In addition, autophagy was decreased downstream of integrin-linked kinase on stiff substrata. Altogether, our data show that tissue mechanics regulates therapeutic outcome and long-term survival of breast cancer cells by influencing autophagy.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cancer Research