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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: Cell Cycle

Volume 11, Issue 12, June 15, Pages 2272-2284

The published version is available at DOI: 10.4161/cc.20717. Copyright © Landes BioScience


Previous studies have demonstrated that loss of caveolin-1 (Cav-1) in stromal cells drives the activation of the TGF-β signaling, with increased transcription of TGF-β target genes, such as connective tissue growth factor (CTGF). In addition, loss of stromal Cav-1 results in the metabolic reprogramming of cancer-associated fibroblasts, with the induction of autophagy and glycolysis. However, it remains unknown if activation of the TGF-β / CTGF pathway regulates the metabolism of cancer-associated fibroblasts. Therefore, we investigated whether CTGF modulates metabolism in the tumor microenvironment. For this purpose, CTGF was overexpressed in normal human fibroblasts or MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. Overexpression of CTGF induces HIF-1α-dependent metabolic alterations, with the induction of autophagy/mitophagy, senescence, and glycolysis. Here, we show that CTGF exerts compartment-specific effects on tumorigenesis, depending on the cell-type. In a xenograft model, CTGF overexpressing fibroblasts promote the growth of co-injected MDA-MB-231 cells, without any increases in angiogenesis. Conversely, CTGF overexpression in MDA-MB-231 cells dramatically inhibits tumor growth in mice. Intriguingly, increased extracellular matrix deposition was seen in tumors with either fibroblast or MDA-MB-231 overexpression of CTGF. Thus, the effects of CTGF expression on tumor formation are independent of its extracellular matrix function, but rather depend on its ability to activate catabolic metabolism. As such, CTGF-mediated induction of autophagy in fibroblasts supports tumor growth via the generation of recycled nutrients, whereas CTGF-mediated autophagy in breast cancer cells suppresses tumor growth, via tumor cell self-digestion. Our studies shed new light on the compartment-specific role of CTGF in mammary tumorigenesis, and provide novel insights into the mechanism(s) generating a lethal tumor microenvironment in patients lacking stromal Cav-1. As loss of Cav-1 is a stromal marker of poor clinical outcome in women with primary breast cancer, dissecting the downstream signaling effects of Cav-1 are important for understanding disease pathogenesis, and identifying novel therapeutic targets.