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BACKGROUND: Due to the lack of effective therapies and poor prognosis in TNBC (triple-negative breast cancer) patients, there is a strong need to develop effective novel targeted therapies for this subtype of breast cancer. Inhibition of heat shock protein 90 (HSP90), a conserved molecular chaperone that is involved in the regulation of oncogenic client proteins, has shown to be a promising therapeutic approach for TNBC. However, both intrinsic and acquired resistance to HSP90 inhibitors (HSP90i) limits their effectiveness in cancer patients. METHODS: We developed models of acquired resistance to HSP90i by prolonged exposure of TNBC cells to HSP90i (ganetespib) in vitro. Whole transcriptome profiling and a 328-compound bioactive small molecule screen were performed on these cells to identify the molecular basis of acquired resistance to HSP90i and potential therapeutic approaches to overcome resistance. RESULTS: Among a panel of seven TNBC cell lines, the most sensitive cell line (Hs578T) to HSP90i was selected as an in vitro model to investigate acquired resistance to HSP90i. Two independent HSP90i-resistant clones were successfully isolated which both showed absence of client proteins degradation, apoptosis induction and G2/M cell cycle arrest after treatment with HSP90i. Gene expression profiling and pathway enrichment analysis demonstrate significant activation of the survival JAK-STAT signalling pathway in both HSP90i-resistant clones, possibly through IL6 autocrine signalling. A bioactive small molecule screen also demonstrated that the HSP90i-resistant clones showed selective sensitivity to JAK2 inhibition. Inhibition of JAK and HSP90 caused higher induction of apoptosis, despite prior acquired resistance to HSP90i. CONCLUSIONS: Acquired resistance to HSP90i in TNBC cells is associated with an upregulated JAK-STAT signalling pathway. A combined inhibition of the JAK-STAT signalling pathway and HSP90 could overcome this resistance. The benefits of the combined therapy could be explored further for the development of effective targeted therapy in TNBC patients.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Cancer

Publication Date





Breast cancer, Ganetespib, HSP90, Heat shock protein, JAK, Resistance, STAT, TNBC, Triple-negative breast cancer, Apoptosis, Cell Line, Tumor, Drug Resistance, Neoplasm, Drug Synergism, Gene Expression Profiling, Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic, HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins, Humans, Interleukin-6, Janus Kinase 2, Signal Transduction, Small Molecule Libraries, Triazoles, Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms