Highly Metastatic Subpopulation of TNBC Cells Has Limited Iron Metabolism and Is a Target of Iron Chelators

Yuze Wang, Toshiaki Ohara, Yuehua Chen, Yusuke Hamada, Chunning Li, Masayoshi Fujisawa, Teizo Yoshimura, Akihiro Matsukawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Excess iron is known to be a risk factor of carcinogenesis. Although iron chelators show anti-cancer effects, they have not been used successfully to treat cancer patients. Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a disease with poor prognosis without effective treatments. Thus, we aimed to evaluate a possibility of iron chelators as a therapy for TNBC. Deferasirox (DFX), an iron chelator, suppressed the growth of 4T1 murine TNBC cell line cells in vitro and in vivo. Lung metastasis was further significantly reduced, leading to the hypothesis that iron metabolism between metastatic and non-metastatic cells may be different. An analysis of existing database demonstrated that the expression of iron-uptake genes was significantly suppressed in TNBC cells that metastasized to lymph nodes or lungs compared to those in primary tumors. A highly metastatic clone of the murine 4T1 TNBC cells (4T1-HM) did not proliferate well under iron-rich or iron-depleted conditions by iron chelators compared to a low-metastatic clone (4T1-LM). Bulk RNA-seq analysis of RNA from 4T1-HM and 4T1-LM cells suggested that the PI3K-AKT pathway might be responsible for this difference. Indeed, DFX suppressed the proliferation via the AKT-mTOR pathway in 4T1-HM and the human MDA-MB-231 cells, a human mesenchymal-like TNBC cell line. DFX also suppressed the growth of 4T1-HM tumors in comparison to 4T1-LM tumors, and reduced lung metastases after surgical resection of primary 4T1 tumors. These results indicated, for the first time, that highly metastatic TNBC cells have limited iron metabolism, and they can be more effectively targeted by iron chelators.

Original languageEnglish
Article number468
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • heterogeneity
  • iron chelator
  • iron metabolism
  • metastasis
  • phosphoinositide-3-kinase-protein kinase
  • triple-negative breast cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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