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Zhi-yuan Pang, Yun-tao Wei, Mu-yan Shang, Shuang Li, Yang Li, Quan-xiu Jin, Zhi-xuan Liao, Ming-ke Cui, Xiao-yan Liu, and Qiang Zhang

Aberrant leptin signaling and overexpression of fibroblast growth factor receptor 1 (FGFR1) are both implicated in the pathogenesis of letrozole resistance in breast cancer (BCa), but it remains unknown whether these two pathways are involved in letrozole resistance in a coordinated manner. Here, we demonstrate that expression levels of the pre-B-cell leukemia homeobox transcription factor 3 (PBX3), a pioneer factor that governs divergent biological processes, were significantly upregulated in letrozole-resistant BCa cells and tissues, and this upregulation correlated to a poorer progression-free survival in patients. By leveraging a patient-derived xenograft model with pharmacological approaches, we demonstrated that leptin activated PBX3 expression in a STAT3 (signal transducer and activator of transcription 3)–dependent manner. Our loss- and gain-of-function study further showed that PBX3 attenuated response to letrozole by potentiating BCa cell survival and anchorage–independent growth in BCa cells. By profiling BCa cells with ectopic PBX3 expression, we revealed that PBX3 conferred letrozole resistance via transactivation of the FGFR1 signaling, and this molecular event must coordinate a synergistic transcription activation programs through interacting with MTA1-HDAC2 (metastasis associated 1-histone deacetylase 2) complex. Overall, the available data reveal a novel role of leptin/PBX3 cascade linking energy homeostasis (i.e. hyperleptinemia) and endocrine therapy failure (i.e. letrozole resistance) in BCa.