The polycomb protein MEL-18 has been proposed as a tumor suppressor in breast cancer; however, its functional relevance to the hormonal regulation of breast cancer remains unknown. Here, we demonstrated that MEL-18 loss contributes to the hormone-independent phenotype of breast cancer by modulating hormone receptor expression. In multiple breast cancer cohorts, MEL-18 was markedly downregulated in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). MEL-18 expression positively correlated with the expression of luminal markers, including estrogen receptor–α (ER-α, encoded by ESR1). MEL-18 loss was also associated with poor response to antihormonal therapy in ER-α–positive breast cancer. Furthermore, whereas MEL-18 loss in luminal breast cancer cells resulted in the downregulation of expression and activity of ER-α and the progesterone receptor (PR), MEL-18 overexpression restored ER-α expression in TNBC. Consistently, in vivo xenograft experiments demonstrated that MEL-18 loss induces estrogen-independent growth and tamoxifen resistance in luminal breast cancer, and that MEL-18 overexpression confers tamoxifen sensitivity in TNBC. MEL-18 suppressed SUMOylation of the ESR1 transactivators p53 and SP1, thereby driving ESR1 transcription. MEL-18 facilitated the deSUMOylation process by inhibiting BMI-1/RING1B-mediated ubiquitin-proteasomal degradation of SUMO1/sentrin-specific protease 1 (SENP1). These findings demonstrate that MEL-18 is a SUMO-dependent regulator of hormone receptors and suggest MEL-18 expression as a marker for determining the antihormonal therapy response in patients with breast cancer.


Jeong-Yeon Lee, Hee-Young Won, Ji-Hye Park, Hye-Yeon Kim, Hee-Joo Choi, Dong-Hui Shin, Ju-Hee Kang, Jong-Kyu Woo, Seung-Hyun Oh, Taekwon Son, Jin-Woo Choi, Sehwan Kim, Hyung-Yong Kim, Kijong Yi, Ki-Seok Jang, Young-Ha Oh, Gu Kong


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