Basal-like breast cancer (BLBC) is associated with high-grade, distant metastasis and poor prognosis. Elucidating the determinants of aggressiveness in BLBC may facilitate the development of novel interventions for this challenging disease. In this study, we show that aldo-keto reductase 1 member B1 (AKR1B1) overexpression highly correlates with BLBC and predicts poor prognosis in breast cancer patients. Mechanistically, Twist2 transcriptionally induces AKR1B1 expression, leading to nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) activation. In turn, NF-κB up-regulates Twist2 expression, thereby fulfilling a positive feedback loop that activates the epithelial–mesenchymal transition program and enhances cancer stem cell (CSC)–like properties in BLBC. AKR1B1 expression promotes, whereas AKR1B1 knockdown inhibits, tumorigenicity and metastasis. Importantly, epalrestat, an AKR1B1 inhibitor that has been approved for the treatment of diabetic complications, significantly suppresses CSC properties, tumorigenicity, and metastasis of BLBC cells. Together, our study identifies AKR1B1 as a key modulator of tumor aggressiveness and suggests that pharmacologic inhibition of AKR1B1 has the potential to become a valuable therapeutic strategy for BLBC.
- Submitted: 13 June 2016
- Revision received 3 November 2016
- Accepted: 20 December 2016
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