Fractionated irradiation of MCF7 breast cancer cells rewires a gene regulatory circuit towards a treatment-resistant stemness phenotype

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Institutes & Expert groups

  • UA - Universiteit Antwerpen
  • VU - University Medical Center, Amsterdam
  • UGent - Universiteit Gent

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Radiotherapy is the standard of care for breast cancer. However, surviving radioresistant cells can repopulate following treatment and provoke relapse. Better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of radiation resistance may help to improve treatment of radioresistant tumours. To emulate radiation therapy at the cellular level, we exposed MCF7 breast cancer cells to daily radiation doses of 2 Gy up to an accumulated dose of 20 Gy. Fractionally irradiated cells (FIR20) displayed increased clonogenic survival and population doubling time as compared with age-matched sham-irradiated cells and untreated parental MCF7 cells. RNA-sequencing revealed a core signature of 229 mRNAs and 7 circular RNAs of which the expression was significantly altered in FIR20 cells. Dysregulation of several top genes was mirrored at the protein level. The FIR20 cell transcriptome overlapped significantly with canonical radiation response signatures and demonstrated a remarkable commonality with radiation and endocrine therapy resistance expression profiles, suggesting crosstalk between both acquired resistance pathways, as indicated by reduced sensitivity to tamoxifen cytotoxicity of FIR20 cells. Using predictive analyses and functional enrichment, we identified a gene-regulatory network that promotes stemness and inflammatory signalling in FIR20 cells. We propose
that these phenotypic traits render breast cancer cells more radioresistant but may at the same time serve as potential targets for combination therapies.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalMolecular Oncology
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2022


  • Breast cancer, Circular RNA, Radioresistance, Relapse-free survival, Stemness, Tamoxifen resitance

ID: 7729688