Expression of ID4 protein in breast cancer cells induces reprogramming of tumour-associated macrophages
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BACKGROUND: As crucial regulators of the immune response against pathogens, macrophages have been extensively shown also to be important players in several diseases, including cancer. Specifically, breast cancer macrophages tightly control the angiogenic switch and progression to malignancy. ID4, a member of the ID (inhibitors of differentiation) family of proteins, is associated with a stem-like phenotype and poor prognosis in basal-like breast cancer. Moreover, ID4 favours angiogenesis by enhancing the expression of pro-angiogenic cytokines interleukin-8, CXCL1 and vascular endothelial growth factor. In the present study, we investigated whether ID4 protein exerts its pro-angiogenic function while also modulating the activity of tumour-associated macrophages in breast cancer. METHODS: We performed IHC analysis of ID4 protein and macrophage marker CD68 in a triple-negative breast cancer series. Next, we used cell migration assays to evaluate the effect of ID4 expression modulation in breast cancer cells on the motility of co-cultured macrophages. The analysis of breast cancer gene expression data repositories allowed us to evaluate the ability of ID4 to predict survival in subsets of tumours showing high or low macrophage infiltration. By culturing macrophages in conditioned media obtained from breast cancer cells in which ID4 expression was modulated by overexpression or depletion, we identified changes in the expression of ID4-dependent angiogenesis-related transcripts and microRNAs (miRNAs, miRs) in macrophages by RT-qPCR. RESULTS: We determined that ID4 and macrophage marker CD68 protein expression were significantly associated in a series of triple-negative breast tumours. Interestingly, ID4 messenger RNA (mRNA) levels robustly predicted survival, specifically in the subset of tumours showing high macrophage infiltration. In vitro and in vivo migration assays demonstrated that expression of ID4 in breast cancer cells stimulates macrophage motility. At the molecular level, ID4 protein expression in breast cancer cells controls, through paracrine signalling, the activation of an angiogenic programme in macrophages. This programme includes both the increase of angiogenesis-related mRNAs and the decrease of members of the anti-angiogenic miR-15b/107 group. Intriguingly, these miRNAs control the expression of the cytokine granulin, whose enhanced expression in macrophages confers increased angiogenic potential. CONCLUSIONS: These results uncover a key role for ID4 in dictating the behaviour of tumour-associated macrophages in breast cancer.
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