Cancer-associated fibroblasts rewire the estrogen receptor response in luminal breast cancer, enabling estrogen independence

Steven E Reid, Jessica Pantaleo, Paulina Bolivar, Matteo Bocci, Jonas Sjölund, Mikkel Morsing, Eugenia Cordero, Sara Larsson, Maria Malmberg, Brinton Seashore-Ludlow, Kristian Pietras

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Advanced breast cancers represent a major therapeutic challenge due to their refractoriness to treatment. Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) are the most abundant constituents of the tumor microenvironment and have been linked to most hallmarks of cancer. However, the influence of CAFs on therapeutic outcome remains largely unchartered. Here, we reveal that spatial coincidence of abundant CAF infiltration with malignant cells was associated with reduced estrogen receptor (ER)-α expression and activity in luminal breast tumors. Notably, CAFs mediated estrogen-independent tumor growth by selectively regulating ER-α signaling. Whereas most prototypical estrogen-responsive genes were suppressed, CAFs maintained gene expression related to therapeutic resistance, basal-like differentiation, and invasion. A functional drug screen in co-cultures identified effector pathways involved in the CAF-induced regulation of ER-α signaling. Among these, the Transforming Growth Factor-β and the Janus kinase signaling cascades were validated as actionable targets to counteract the CAF-induced modulation of ER-α activity. Finally, genes that were downregulated in cancer cells by CAFs were predictive of poor response to endocrine treatment. In conclusion, our work reveals that CAFs directly control the luminal breast cancer phenotype by selectively modulating ER-α expression and transcriptional function, and further proposes novel targets to disrupt the crosstalk between CAFs and tumor cells to reinstate treatment response to endocrine therapy in patients.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2024 Feb 22

Bibliographical note

© 2024. The Author(s).

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Cancer and Oncology


Dive into the research topics of 'Cancer-associated fibroblasts rewire the estrogen receptor response in luminal breast cancer, enabling estrogen independence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this