Combined genomic and phenotype screening reveals secretory factor SPINK1 as an invasion and survival factor associated with patient prognosis in breast cancer.

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Apoptosis, Breast Neoplasms, Carrier Proteins, Female, Genetic Testing, Humans, Immunohistochemistry, Neoplasm Invasiveness, Prognosis, Receptors, Estrogen, Survival Analysis

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EMBO Mol Med 2011 Aug; 3(8):451-64.


Secretory factors that drive cancer progression are attractive immunotherapeutic targets. We used a whole-genome data-mining approach on multiple cohorts of breast tumours annotated for clinical outcomes to discover such factors. We identified Serine protease inhibitor Kazal-type 1 (SPINK1) to be associated with poor survival in estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) cases. Immunohistochemistry showed that SPINK1 was absent in normal breast, present in early and advanced tumours, and its expression correlated with poor survival in ER+ tumours. In ER- cases, the prognostic effect did not reach statistical significance. Forced expression and/or exposure to recombinant SPINK1 induced invasiveness without affecting cell proliferation. However, down-regulation of SPINK1 resulted in cell death. Further, SPINK1 overexpressing cells were resistant to drug-induced apoptosis due to reduced caspase-3 levels and high expression of Bcl2 and phospho-Bcl2 proteins. Intriguingly, these anti-apoptotic effects of SPINK1 were abrogated by mutations of its protease inhibition domain. Thus, SPINK1 affects multiple aggressive properties in breast cancer: survival, invasiveness and chemoresistance. Because SPINK1 effects are abrogated by neutralizing antibodies, we suggest that SPINK1 is a viable potential therapeutic target in breast cancer.