eEF2 kinase mediated autophagy as a potential therapeutic target for paclitaxel-resistant triple-negative breast cancer

Ruo-Xi Wang, Xiao-En Xu, Liang Huang, Sheng Chen, Zhi-Ming Shao


Background: Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs) are initially responsive to chemotherapy, but most recurrent TNBCs develop resistance. Autophagy is believed to play dual roles in cancer and might contribute to chemoresistance. In this study, we aimed to investigate the role of autophagy and its regulator, eukaryotic elongation factor 2 kinase (eEF2K), in determining the biological nature of TNBC.
Methods: We used in vitro models of TNBC, namely, paclitaxel-resistant cell lines derived from sensitive cell lines. Various approaches to measuring autophagy flux were applied. We assessed the effects of inhibiting autophagy and silencing eEF2K on cell viability, tumor formation and invasion. We also collected residual tumor samples from 222 breast cancer patients who underwent neoadjuvant chemotherapy and measured eEF2K and LC3 expression levels by immunohistochemistry (IHC). Multivariate survival analysis was used to determine prognostic variables.
Results: Compared to the parental lines, the chemoresistant lines exhibited enhanced starvation- stimulated autophagy and showed significant decreases in cell viability, growth and invasion upon treatment with autophagy inhibitors. eEF2K silencing also resulted in the suppression of autophagic activity and in aggressive biological behavior. In the survival analysis, residual tumor LC3 (P=0.001) and eEF2K (P=0.027) expression levels were independent prognostic factors for patients who underwent neoadjuvant chemotherapy, especially in those with TNBC.
Conclusions: Our study indicated that eEF2K and autophagy play key roles in the maintenance of aggressive tumor behavior and chemoresistance in resistant TNBC. eEF2K silencing may be a novel strategy for the treatment of TNBC.