CCN5 (cysteine-rich 61/connective tissue growth factor/nephroblastoma overexpressed 5)/WISP-2 [WNT1 (wingless-type MMTV integration site family, member 1)-inducible signalling pathway protein 2] is an oestrogen-regulated member of the CCN family. CCN5 is a transcriptional repressor of genes associated with the EMT (epithelial–mesenchymal transition) and plays an important role in maintenance of the differentiated phenotype in ER (oestrogen receptor)-positive breast cancer cells. In contrast, CCN5 is undetectable in more aggressive ER-negative breast cancer cells. We now report that CCN5 is induced in ER-negative breast cancer cells such as MDA-MB-231 following glucocorticoid exposure, due to interaction of the endogenous glucocorticoid receptor with a functional glucocorticoid-response element in the CCN5 gene promoter. Glucocorticoid treatment of MDA-MB-231 cells is accompanied by morphological alterations, decreased invasiveness and attenuated expression of mesenchymal markers, including vimentin, cadherin 11 and ZEB1 (zinc finger E-box binding homeobox 1). Interestingly, glucocorticoid exposure did not increase CCN5 expression in ER-positive breast cancer cells, but rather down-regulated ER expression, thereby attenuating oestrogen pathway signalling. Taken together, our results indicate that glucocorticoid treatment of ER-negative breast cancer cells induces high levels of CCN5 expression and is accompanied by the appearance of a more differentiated and less invasive epithelial phenotype. These findings propose a novel therapeutic strategy for high-risk breast cancer patients.

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