AIB1Δ4 is an N-terminally truncated isoform of the oncogene amplified in breast cancer 1 (AIB1) with increased expression in high-grade human ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). However, the role of AIB1Δ4 in DCIS malignant progression has not been defined. Here we CRISPR-engineered RNA splice junctions to produce normal and early-stage DCIS breast epithelial cells that expressed only AIB1Δ4. These cells showed enhanced motility and invasion in 3D cell culture. In zebrafish, AIB1Δ4-expressing cells enabled invasion of parental cells when present in a mixed population. In mouse xenografts, a subpopulation of AIB1Δ4 cells mixed with parental cells enhanced tumor growth, recurrence, and lung metastasis. AIB1Δ4 chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing revealed enhanced binding to regions including peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) genomic recognition sites. H3K27ac and H3K4me1 genomic engagement patterns revealed selective activation of breast cancer-specific enhancer sites by AIB1Δ4. AIB1Δ4 cells displayed upregulated inflammatory response genes and downregulated PPAR signaling gene expression patterns. In the presence of AIB1Δ4 enabler cells, parental cells increased NF-κB and WNT signaling. Cellular cross-talk was inhibited by the PPARγ agonist efatutazone but was enhanced by treatment with the GR agonist dexamethasone. In conclusion, expression of the AIB1Δ4-selective cistrome in a small subpopulation of cells triggers an “enabler” phenotype hallmarked by an invasive transcriptional program and collective malignant progression in a heterogeneous tumor population.

Significance:

A minor subset of early-stage breast cancer cells expressing AIB1Δ4 enables bulk tumor cells to become invasive, suggesting that selective eradication of this population could impair breast cancer metastasis.

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