Contribution of synergism between PHF8 and HER2 signalling to breast cancer development and drug resistance

Qi Liu, Nicholas C. Borcherding, Peng Shao, Peterson K. Maina, Weizhou Zhang, Hank H. Qi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: HER2 plays a critical role in tumourigenesis and is associated with poor prognosis of patients with HER2-positive breast cancers. Although anti-HER2 drugs are beneficial for treating breast cancer, de novo, or acquired resistance often develops. Epigenetic factors are increasingly targeted for therapy; however, such mechanisms that interact with HER2 signalling are poorly understood. Methods: RNA sequencing was performed to identify PHF8 targets downstream of HER2 signalling. CHIP-qPCR were used to investigate how PHF8 regulates HER2 transcription. ELISA determined cytokine secretion. Cell-based assay revealed a feed forward loop in HER2 signalling and then evaluated in vivo. Findings: We report the synergistic interplay between histone demethylase PHF8 and HER2 signalling. Specifically, PHF8 levels were elevated in HER2-positive breast cancers and upregulated by HER2. PHF8 functioned as a coactivator that regulated the expression of HER2, markers of the HER2-driven epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and cytokines. The HER2-PHF8-IL-6 regulatory axis was active in cell lines and in newly established MMTV-Her2/MMTV-Cre/Phf8fl°x/fl°x mouse models, which revealed the oncogenic function of Phf8 in breast cancer for the first time. Further, the PHF8-IL-6 axis contributed to the resistance to trastuzumab in vitro and may play a critical role in the infiltration of T cells in HER2-driven breast cancers. Interpretation: These findings provided informative mechanistic insight into the potential application of PHF8 inhibitors to overcome resistance to anti-HER2 therapies. Funding: This work was supported by Carver Trust Young Investigator Award (01-224 to H.H.Q); and a Breast Cancer Research Award (to H.H.Q.).

Original languageEnglish
Article number102612
StatePublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Breast cancer
  • Drug resistance
  • HER2
  • IL-6
  • PHF8


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