Neuromedin U (NmU) is a neuropeptide belonging to the neuromedin family. Recently, we reported a significant association between NmU and breast cancer, particularly correlating with increased aggressiveness, resistance to HER2-targeted therapies and overall significantly poorer outcome for patients, although the mechanism through which it exerts this effect remained unexplained. Investigating this, here we found that ectopic over-expression of NmU in HER2-positive breast cancer cells induced aberrant metabolism, with increased glycolysis, likely due to enhanced pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase activity. Similar results were observed in HER2-targeted drug-resistant cell variants, which we had previously shown to display increased levels of NmU. Overexpression of NmU also resulted in upregulation of epithelial-mesenchymal transition markers and increased IL-6 secretion which, together with aberrant metabolism, have all been associated with the cancer stem cell (CSC) phenotype. Flow cytometry experiments confirmed that NmU-overexpressing and HER2-targeted drug-resistant cells showed an increased proportion of cells with CSC phenotype (CD44(+) /CD24(-) ). Taken together, our results report a new mechanism of action for NmU in HER2-overexpressing breast cancer that enhances resistance to HER2-targeted drugs through conferring CSC characteristics and expansion of the CSC phenotype.
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