Breast cancer today is typically seen as malignancy with longer survival due to early-detection diagnostics, yet the cancer remains by far the most common tumor type in adult females. Recently, our group co-discovered myoglobin (MB) to be expressed in luminal cells of healthy and cancerous breast epithelia of human and mice. In human patients, MB positivity emerged as hallmark of the luminal subtype and was directly correlated with estrogen receptor alpha positivity and hence a significantly better prognosis. Cancerous cells’ MB also appears to interact with the known tumor suppressor p53. However, if and how myoglobin itself restricts mammary tumorigenesis is completely unclear. To understand how MB exerts its alleged tumor-suppressive effects and if it impacts response of mammary tumors to chemo- and/or radiotherapy, we examine the molecular role of MB in breast tumor formation and progression through a) in vitro studies (MCF7 breast cancer BrCa cell clones; wildtype (wt) controls versus CRISPR/Cas9-engineered clones of a MB and/or p53 knockout (MBko/p53ko), b) in vivo mouse models to obtain spontaneously forming breast tumors, with or without MB, in a p53 deficient background. Comparing MCF7 BrCa MBko and p53ko clones vs. their corresponding wildtype counterpart supports our hypothesis of a feed forward loop between MB and p53 proteins, besides interfering with estrogen receptor expression. In addition to that, loss of MB was noticed to exert p53-independent upregulation on cell cyclins with more S phase cell population. That was reflected by a significant increase in survival of the MBko cells, in presence or absence of p53. Hypoxic MBko cells exhibited a partial epithelial to mesenchymal transition and hence a more migratory phenotype, relative to MBwt controls. Additionally, MB seems to stimulate apoptosis of the normoxic cancer cells. On the other hand, murine tumors were found to phenocopy human BrCa in the extent of their MB expression. Interestingly, MB-devoid tumors showed a significantly higher proliferation index and fat accumulation. Further studies will look into the clinical significance of that. In conclusion, MB seems to occupy unknown roles in cancer cells beyond or different from its classical O2 storage/transport functions. Unraveling these novel roles in governing tumor development and virulence will hopefully provide innovative strategies for future breast cancer interventions.

Citation Format: Mostafa A. Aboouf, Julia Armbruster, Franco Guscetti, Markus Thiersch, Max Gassmann, Thomas A. Gorr. The role of myoglobin in breast cancer [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 2020 San Antonio Breast Cancer Virtual Symposium; 2020 Dec 8-11; San Antonio, TX. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2021;81(4 Suppl):Abstract nr PS19-17.