Mutant p53 dictates the oncogenic activity of c-Abl in triple-negative breast cancers

Chevaun D. Morrison, Jenny C. Chang, Ruth A. Keri, William P. Schiemann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


We recently established c-Abl as a potent suppressor of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) progression through its reactivation of a p53:p21 signaling axis coupled to senescence. Moreover, we observed co-expression of p53 and c-Abl to be essential for normal mammary epithelial cell physiology, as this relationship is lost upon breast cancer progression. Cytoplasmic c-Abl activity is markedly increased in some TNBCs and contributes to disease progression; however, the mechanisms underlying these events remain largely unknown. In addressing this question, we show here that c-Abl is predominantly restricted to the cytoplasm of human MDA-MB-231 TNBC cells, and to the nucleus of human MCF-7 luminal A cells. TTK is a mitotic protein kinase that phosphorylates c-Abl on Thr735, thereby creating a recognition binding motif for 14-3-3 adaptor proteins in response to oxidative stress. By interrogating the METABRIC database, we observed a significant correlation between p53 expression and that of c-Abl and TTK in basal-like breast cancers. Moreover, heterologous expression of TTK in MCF-7 cells significantly stimulated their growth in part via a c-Abl-dependent mechanism. Conversely, depleting TTK expression in MDA-MB-231 cells not only inhibited their organoid growth in 3D-cultures, but also sensitized them to the tumor suppressing activities of c-Abl independent of its subcellular localization. Moreover, we show that mutant p53 forms cytoplasmic complexes with c-Abl, thereby dictating the subcellular localization of c-Abl and the sensitivity of MDA-MB-231 cells to Imatinib. In response to nutrient deprivation, c-Abl:p53 complexes readily accumulate in the nucleus, resulting in the hyperactivation of c-Abl and initiation of its anti-tumor activities. Collectively, we identified a novel mutant p53:c-Abl cytoplasmic signaling complex that promotes MDA-MB-231 cell growth and highlights the contextual cues that confer oncogenic activity to c-Abl in breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2899
JournalCell Death and Disease
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology
  • Cancer Research


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