Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

James M. Reuben

Committee Member

Wendy A. Woodward

Committee Member

Naoto T. Ueno

Committee Member

George A. Calin

Committee Member

Kapil Mehta


Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare but very aggressive form of locally advanced breast cancer (1-6% of total breast cancer patients in United States), with a 5-year overall survival rate of only 40.5%, compared with 85% of the non-IBC patients. So far, a unique molecular signature for IBC able to explain the dramatic differences in the tumor biology between IBC and non-IBC has not been identified. As immune cells in the tumor microenvironment plays an important role in regulating tumor progression, we hypothesized that tumor-associated dendritic cells (TADC) may be responsible for regulating the development of the aggressive characteristics of IBC. MiRNAs can be released into the extracellular space and mediate the intercellular communication by regulating target gene expression beyond their cells of origin. We hypothesized that miRNAs released by IBC cells can induce an increased activation status, secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines and migration ability of TADC. In an in vitro model of IBC tumor microenvironment, we found that the co-cultured of the IBC cell line SUM-149 with immature dendritic cells (iDCSUM-149) induced a higher degree of activation and maturation of iDCSUM-149 upon stimulation with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) compared with iDCs co-cultured with the non-IBC cell line SUM-159 (iDCSUM-159), resulting in: increased expression of the costimulatory and activation markers; higher production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNF-a, IL-6); and 3) higher migratory ability. These differences were due to the exosome-mediated transfer of miR-19a and miR-146a from SUM-149 and SUM-159, respectively, to iDCs, causing the downregulation of the miR-19a target genes PTEN, SOCS-1 and the miR-146a target genes IRAK1, TRAF6. PTEN, SOCS-1 and IRAK1, TRAF6 are important negative and positive regulator of cytokine- and TLR-mediated activation/maturation signaling pathway in DCs.

Increased levels of IL-6 induced the upregulation of miR-19a synthesis in SUM-149 cells that was associated with the induction of CD44+CD24-ALDH1+ cancer stem cells (CSCs) with epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) characteristics.

In conclusion, in IBC tumor microenvironment IL-6/miR-19a axis can represent a self-sustaining loop able to maintain a pro-inflammatory status of DCs, leading to the development of tumor cells with high metastatic potential (EMT CSCs) responsible of the poor prognosis in IBC patients.


Inflammatory breast cancer, miRNAs, DCs, tumor microenvironment, inflammation



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