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CHFR regulates chemoresistance in triple-negative breast cancer through destabilizing ZEB1

Failures to treat triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) are mainly due to chemoresistance or radioresistance. We and others previously discovered that zinc finger E-box-binding homeobox 1 (ZEB1) is a massive driver causing these resistance. However, how to dynamically modulate the intrinsic expression of ZEB1 during cell cycle progression is elusive. Here integrated affinity purification combined with mass spectrometry and TCGA analysis identify a cell cycle-related E3 ubiquitin ligase, checkpoint with forkhead and ring finger domains (CHFR), as a key negative regulator of ZEB1 in TNBC. Functional studies reveal that CHFR associates with and decreases ZEB1 expression in a ubiquitinating-dependent manner and that CHFR represses fatty acid synthase (FASN) expression through ZEB1, leading to significant cell death of TNBC under chemotherapy. Intriguingly, a small-molecule inhibitor of HDAC under clinical trial, Trichostatin A (TSA), increases the expression of CHFR independent of histone acetylation, thereby destabilizes ZEB1 and sensitizes the resistant TNBC cells to conventional chemotherapy. In patients with basal-like breast cancers, CHFR levels significantly correlates with survival. These findings suggest the therapeutic potential for targeting CHFR-ZEB1 signaling in resistant malignant breast cancers.

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