|Abstract:||Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. The molecular mechanisms underlying the disease have been extensively studied, leading to dramatic improvements in diagnostic and prognostic approaches. Despite the overall improvements in survival rate, numerous cases of death by breast cancer are still reported per year, alerting us about the potential gap of knowledge in cancer molecular biology era. The emerging advances in new generation sequencing techniques have revealed that the majority of genome is transcribed into non-protein coding RNAs (ncRNAs), including thousands of long ncRNAs (lncRNAs). At present, we do not know the biological function of majority of these lncRNAs.
MALAT1 (metastasis associated lung adenocarcinoma transcript1) is a lncRNA which its expression is deregulated in various tumors, including breast cancer. However, the significance of such abnormal expression is yet to be fully understood. In this study, we demonstrate that regulation of aggressive breast cancer cell traits by MALAT1 is not predicted solely based on an elevated expression level but is context specific. By performing loss- and gain-of-function studies, both under in vitro and in vivo conditions, we demonstrate that MALAT1 facilitates cell proliferation, tumor progression and metastasis of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) cells despite having a comparatively lower expression level than ER or HER2-positive breast cancer cells. Furthermore, MALAT1 regulates the expression of several cancer metastasis-related genes, but displays molecular subtype specific correlations with such genes. Assessment of the prognostic significance of MALAT1 in human breast cancer (n=1992) revealed elevated MALAT1 expression was associated with decreased disease-specific survival in ER negative, lymph node negative patients of the HER2 and TNBC molecular subtypes. Multivariable analysis confirmed MALAT1 to have independent prognostic significance in the TNBC lymph node negative patient subset (HR=2.64, 95%CI 1.35- 5.16, p=0.005). We propose that the functional significance of MALAT1 as a metastasis driver and its potential use as a prognostic marker is most promising for those patients diagnosed with ER negative, lymph node negative breast cancer who might otherwise mistakenly be stratified to have low recurrence risk.
Next, to expand our insights into the role of lncRNAs in breast cancer progression, we performed genome-wide transcriptome analyses in an isogenic, triple negative breast cancer (TNBC/basal-like) progression cell lines using a 3D cell culture model. We identified aberrant expression of ~2900 lncRNAs, including ~1000 natural antisense transcript (NATs) lncRNAs. A significant number of breast cancer-deregulated NATs displayed co-regulated expression with oncogenic and tumor suppressor protein-coding genes in cis. Further studies on one such NAT, PDCD4-AS1 lncRNA reveal that it positively regulates the expression and activity of the tumor suppressor PDCD4 in TNBC. Both PDCD4-AS1 and PDCD4 show reduced expression in TNBC cell lines and in patients, and depletion of PDCD4-AS1 compromise the cellular levels and activity of PDCD4. Further, tumorigenic properties of PDCD4-AS1-depleted TNBC cells were rescued by exogenous expression of PDCD4, implying that PDCD4-AS1 acts upstream of PDCD4. Our results reveal that PDCD4-AS1 stabilizes PDCD4 RNA by forming an RNA duplex, and controls the interaction between PDCD4 RNA and RNA decay promoting factors such as HuR, thereby stabilizing PDCD4 mRNA. Our studies demonstrate crucial roles played by NAT lncRNAs in regulating post-transcriptional gene expression of key oncogenic or tumor suppressor genes, thereby contributing to TNBC progression.