Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

James M. Reuben, PhD

Committee Member

Wendy Woodward, MD, PhD

Committee Member

Naoto T. Ueno, MD, PhD

Committee Member

Bradley McIntyre, PhD

Committee Member

Stephen Ullrich, PhD


Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is the most insidious form of locally advanced disease. Although rare and less than 2% of all breast cancer, IBC is responsible for up to 10% of all breast cancer deaths. Despite the name, very little is known about the role of inflammation or immune mediators in IBC. Therefore, we analyzed blood samples from IBC patients and non-IBC patients, as well as healthy donor controls to establish an IBC-specific profile of peripheral blood leukocyte phenotype and function of T cells and dendritic cells and serum inflammatory cytokines.

Emerging evidence suggests that host factors in the microenviromement may interact with underlying IBC genetics to promote the aggressive nature of the tumor. An integral part of the metastatic process involves epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) where primary breast cancer cells gain motility and stem cell-like features that allow distant seeding. Interestingly, the IBC consortium microarray data found no clear evidence for EMT in IBC tumor tissues. It is becoming increasingly evident that inflammatory factors can induce EMT. However, it is unknown if EMT-inducing soluble factors secreted by activated immune cells in the IBC microenvironment canπ account for the absence of EMT in studies of the tumor cells themselves. We hypothesized that soluble factors from immune cells are capable of inducing EMT in IBC.

We tested the ability of immune conditioned media to induce EMT in IBC cells. We found that soluble factors from activated immune cells are able to induce the expression of EMT-related factors in IBC cells along with increased migration and invasion. Specifically, the pro-inflammatory cytokines TNF-α, IL-6 and TGF-β were able to induce EMT and blocking these factors in conditioned media abated the induction of EMT. Surprisingly, unique to IBC cells, this process was related to increased levels of E-cadherin expression and adhesion, reminiscent of the characteristic tightly packed tumor emboli seen in IBC samples.

This data offers insight into the unique pathology of IBC by suggesting that tumor immune interactions in the tumor microenvironment contribute to the aggressive nature of IBC implying that immune induced inflammation can be a novel therapeutic target. Specifically, we showed that soluble factors secreted by activated immune cells are capable of inducing EMT in IBC cells and may mediate the persistent E-cadherin expression observed in IBC. This data suggests that immune mediated inflammation may contribute to the highly aggressive nature of IBC and represents a potential therapeutic target that warrants further investigation.


inflammatory breast cancer, immunology, epithelial to mesenchymal transition, inflammation, cancer, T cell, Dendritic Cell, cytokine