HER2 regulates HIF-2α and drives an increased hypoxic response in breast cancer

Edward Jarman, Carol Ward, Arran K. Turnbull, Carlos Martinez-Perez, James Meehan, Chrysi Xintaropoulou, Andrew H. Sims, Simon P. Langdon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Tumour hypoxia is a driver of breast cancer progression associated with worse prognosis and more aggressive disease. The cellular response to hypoxia is mediated by the hypoxia-inducible transcription factors HIF-1 and HIF-2, whose transcriptional activity is canonically regulated through their oxygen-labile HIF-α subunits. These are constitutively degraded in the presence of oxygen; however, HIF-1α can be stabilised, even at high oxygen concentrations, through the activation of HER receptor signalling. Despite this, there is still limited understanding on how HER receptor signalling interacts with HIF activity to contribute to breast cancer progression in the context of tumour hypoxia.

2D and 3D cell line models were used alongside microarray gene expression analysis and meta-analysis of publicly available gene expression datasets to assess the impact of HER2 overexpression on HIF-1α/HIF-2α regulation and to compare the global transcriptomic response to acute and chronic hypoxia in an isogenic cell line model of HER2 overexpression.

HER2 overexpression in MCF7 cells leads to an increase in HIF-2α but not HIF-1α expression in normoxia and an increased upregulation of HIF-2α in hypoxia. Global gene expression analysis showed that HER2 overexpression in these cells promotes an exaggerated transcriptional response to both short-term and long-term hypoxia, with increased expression of numerous hypoxia response genes. HIF-2α expression is frequently higher in HER2-overexpressing tumours and is associated with worse disease-specific survival in HER2-positive breast cancer patients. HER2-overexpressing cell lines demonstrate an increased sensitivity to targeted HIF-2α inhibition through either siRNA or the use of a small molecule inhibitor of HIF-2α translation.

This study suggests an important interplay between HER2 expression and HIF-2α in breast cancer and highlights the potential for HER2 to drive the expression of numerous hypoxia response genes in normoxia and hypoxia. Overall, these findings show the importance of understanding the regulation of HIF activity in a variety of breast cancer subtypes and points to the potential of targeting HIF-2α as a therapy for HER2-positive breast cancer.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBreast Cancer Research
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • HIF-2α
  • HER2
  • Hypoxia


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