1. Department of Biological Sciences, Keimyung University College of Natural Sciences, Daegu, Republic of Korea.
2. Department of Anatomy, Embryology Laboratory, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
3. Department of Anatomy, Graduate School of Medical Science, Brain Korea 21 Project, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
4. Department of Biochemistry, Brain Korea 21 Project and Research Institute for Veterinary Science, Seoul National University College of Veterinary Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
5. Comparative Medicine Disease Research Center, Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Homeobox genes and their encoded DNA-binding homeoproteins are master regulators of development. Consequently, these homeotic elements may regulate key steps in cancer pathogenesis. Here, using a combination of in silico analyses of large-scale patient datasets, in vitro RNAi phenotyping, and in vivo validation studies, we investigated the role of HOXB2 in different molecular subtypes of human breast cancer (BC). The gene expression signatures of HOXB2 are different across distinct BC subtypes due to various genetic alterations, but HOXB2 was specifically downregulated in the aggressive triple-negative subtype (TNBC). We found that the reduced expression of HOXB2 was correlated with the metastatic abilities (epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition) of TNBC cells. Further, we revealed that HOXB2 restrained TNBC aggressiveness by ECM organization. HOXB2 bound to the promoter regions of MATN3 and ECM2 and regulated their transcription levels. Forced expression of HOXB2 effectively prevented TNBC progression and metastasis in a mouse xenograft model. Reduction of HOXB2 and the HOXB2/MATN3/ECM2 transcriptional axis correlated with poor survival in patients with various cancers. Further, we found the long non-coding RNA HOXB-AS1 in complex with SMYD3, a lysine methyltransferase, as an epigenetic switch controlling HOXB2 expression. Overall, our results indicate a tumor-suppressive role of HOXB2 by maintaining ECM organization and delineate potential clinical utility of HOXB2 as a marker for TNBC patients.
Keywords: HOXB2, triple-negative breast cancer, cancer metastasis, ECM, EMT