Cell Death Dis 13 (9) 832 [2022-09-28; online 2022-09-28]
The transcription factor SNAI1 mediates epithelial-mesenchymal transition, fibroblast activation and controls inter-tissue migration. High SNAI1 expression characterizes metastatic triple-negative breast carcinomas, and its knockout by CRISPR/Cas9 uncovered an epithelio-mesenchymal phenotype accompanied by reduced signaling by the cytokine TGFβ. The SNAI1 knockout cells exhibited plasticity in differentiation, drifting towards the luminal phenotype, gained stemness potential and could differentiate into acinar mammospheres in 3D culture. Loss of SNAI1 de-repressed the transcription factor FOXA1, a pioneering factor of mammary luminal progenitors. FOXA1 induced a specific gene program, including the androgen receptor (AR). Inhibiting AR via a specific antagonist regenerated the basal phenotype and blocked acinar differentiation. Thus, loss of SNAI1 in the context of triple-negative breast carcinoma cells promotes an intermediary luminal progenitor phenotype that gains differentiation plasticity based on the dual transcriptional action of FOXA1 and AR. This function of SNAI1 provides means to separate cell invasiveness from progenitor cell de-differentiation as independent cellular programs.