Obesity is a known risk factor for breast cancer. We have recently identified that adipokine leptin regulates the expression of a proto-oncogenic enzyme sphingosine kinase 1 (SK1). Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) has been linked to breast cancer progression and here we investigate the mechanism of leptin-induced STAT3 activation in ER-negative breast cancer. Gene and protein expression in human primary and secondary breast cancer tissues was analysed using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) assay and immunofluorescence. Leptin-induced signalling was analysed in human ER-negative breast cancer cells using Western blotting, qRT-PCR and radiolabelling assays. Gene expression and receptor signalling was modified using small interfering RNA and neutralising antibodies. In human ER-negative breast tumours and lymph node metastases, the expression of leptin receptor significantly correlated with SK1. In ER-negative breast cancer cells, SK1 knockdown led to a significant reduction in leptin-induced STAT3 phosphorylation. Knockdown of another known activator of STAT3 signalling, gp130 also resulted in a significant decrease in leptin-induced STAT3 phosphorylation. ELISA assay showed that leptin produces a significant amount of IL-6 in an SK1-dependent manner. IL-6 neutralising antibodies significantly reduced p-STAT3. Immunofluorescent staining of human primary and secondary breast tumours showed significant correlation between SK1 and IL-6 (P < 0.001), SK1 and p-STAT3 (P < 0.01) and IL-6 and p-STAT3 (P < 0.01). Our findings demonstrate that leptin-induced STAT3 is partially cross activated through SK1-mediated IL6 secretion and gp130 activation. Positive correlations in human tissues suggest the potential significance of this pathway in ER-negative breast cancer.
- Breast cancer