TGFβ promotes breast cancer stem cell self-renewal through an ILEI/LIFR signaling axis

Alec N. Woosley, Annamarie C. Dalton, George S. Hussey, Breege V. Howley, Bidyut K. Mohanty, Simon Grelet, Toros Dincman, Sean Bloos, Shaun K. Olsen, Philip H. Howe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


FAM3C/Interleukin-like EMT Inducer (ILEI) is an oncogenic member of the FAM3 cytokine family and serves essential roles in both epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and breast cancer metastasis. ILEI expression levels are regulated through a non-canonical TGFβ signaling pathway by 3′-UTR-mediated translational silencing at the mRNA level by hnRNP E1. TGFβ stimulation or silencing of hnRNP E1 increases ILEI translation and induces an EMT program that correlates with enhanced invasion and migration. Recently, EMT has been linked to the formation of breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs) that confer both tumor cell heterogeneity as well as chemoresistant properties. Herein, we demonstrate that hnRNP E1 knockdown significantly shifts normal mammary epithelial cells to mesenchymal BCSCs in vitro and in vivo. We further validate that modulating ILEI protein levels results in the abrogation of these phenotypes, promoting further investigation into the unknown mechanism of ILEI signaling that drives tumor progression. We identify LIFR as the receptor for ILEI, which mediates signaling through STAT3 to drive both EMT and BCSC formation. Reduction of either ILEI or LIFR protein levels results in reduced tumor growth, fewer tumor initiating cells and reduced metastasis within the hnRNP E1 knock-down cell populations in vivo. These results reveal a novel ligand-receptor complex that drives the formation of BCSCs and represents a unique target for the development of metastatic breast cancer therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3794-3811
Number of pages18
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 16 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'TGFβ promotes breast cancer stem cell self-renewal through an ILEI/LIFR signaling axis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this