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  • Author: Manvir Bhagrath x
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Praveena S Thiagarajan, Qiao Zheng, Manvir Bhagrath, Erin E Mulkearns-Hubert, Martin G Myers, Justin D Lathia and Ofer Reizes

Leptin (LEP) binds to the long form of the leptin receptor (LEPRb), leading to the activation of multiple signaling pathways that are potential targets for disrupting the obesity–breast cancer link. In triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), LEP is hypothesized to predominantly mediate its tumorigenic effects via a subpopulation of LEPRb-positive tumor cells termed cancer stem cells (CSCs) that can initiate tumors and induce tumor progression. Previously, we showed that LEP promotes CSC survival in vivo. Moreover, silencing LEPRb in TNBC cells compromised the CSC state. The mechanisms by which LEPRb regulates TNBC CSC intracellular signaling are not clear. We hypothesized that activation of LEPRb signaling is sufficient to drive CSC maintenance in TNBC. Here, we show that activation of LEPRb in non-CSCs isolated using our CSC reporter system resulted in a transition to the stem cell state. In CSCs, LEP induced STAT3 phosphorylation, whereas LEP did not induce STAT3 phosphorylation in non-CSCs. Introduction of constitutively active STAT3 into LEPRb-transfected non-CSCs significantly induced NANOG, SOX2 and OCT4 expression compared with control non-CSCs. To determine the intracellular phospho-tyrosine residue of LEPRb that is necessary for the induction of the stem cell state in non-CSCs, we transfected the tyrosine residue point mutants L985, F1077 and S1138 into non-CSCs. Non-CSCs transfected with the L985 mutant exhibited increased STAT3 phosphorylation, increased SOCS3 expression and an induction of GFP expression compared with non-CSCs expressing the F1077 and S1138 mutants. Our data demonstrate that LEPRb-induced STAT3 activation is essential for the induction and maintenance of TNBC CSCs.