Hypoxia and TGF-β drive breast cancer bone metastases through parallel signaling pathways in tumor cells and the bone microenvironment

Lauren K. Dunn, Khalid S. Mohammad, Pierrick G.J. Fournier, C. Ryan McKenna, Holly W. Davis, Maria Niewolna, Xiang Hong Peng, John M. Chirgwin, Theresa A. Guise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

143 Scopus citations


Background: Most patients with advanced breast cancer develop bone metastases, which cause pain, hypercalcemia, fractures, nerve compression and paralysis. Chemotherapy causes further bone loss, and bone-specific treatments are only palliative. Multiple tumor-secreted factors act on the bone microenvironment to drive a feed-forward cycle of tumor growth. Effective treatment requires inhibiting upstream regulators of groups of prometastatic factors. Two central regulators are hypoxia and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β. We asked whether hypoxia (via HIF-1α) and TGF-β signaling promote bone metastases independently or synergistically, and we tested molecular versus pharmacological inhibition strategies in an animal model. Methodology/Principal Findings: We analyzed interactions between HIF-1α and TGF-β pathways in MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. Only vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and the CXC chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4), of 16 genes tested, were additively increased by both TGF-β and hypoxia, with effects on the proximal promoters. We inhibited HIF-1α and TGFβ pathways in tumor cells by shRNA and dominant negative receptor approaches. Inhibition of either pathway decreased bone metastasis, with no further effect of double blockade. We tested pharmacologic inhibitors of the pathways, which target both the tumor and the bone microenvironment. Unlike molecular blockade, combined drug treatment decreased bone metastases more than either alone, with effects on bone to decrease osteoclastic bone resorption and increase osteoblast activity, in addition to actions on tumor cells. Conclusions/Significance: Hypoxia and TGF-β signaling in parallel drive tumor bone metastases and regulate a common set of tumor genes. In contrast, small molecule inhibitors, by acting on both tumor cells and the bone microenvironment, additively decrease tumor burden, while improving skeletal quality. Our studies suggest that inhibitors of HIF-1α and TGF-β may improve treatment of bone metastases and increase survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere6896
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 3 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Hypoxia and TGF-β drive breast cancer bone metastases through parallel signaling pathways in tumor cells and the bone microenvironment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this