WT1 is a transcription factor which regulates the epithelial-mesenchymal balance during embryonic development and, if mutated, can lead to the formation of Wilms' tumour, the most common paediatric kidney cancer. Its expression has also been reported in several adult tumour types, including breast cancer, and usually correlates with poor outcome. However, published data is inconsistent and the role of WT1 in this malignancy remains unclear. Here we provide a complete study of WT1 expression across different breast cancer subtypes as well as isoform specific expression analysis. Using in vitro cell lines, clinical samples and publicly available gene expression datasets, we demonstrate that WT1 plays a role in regulating the epithelial-mesenchymal balance of breast cancer cells and that WT1-expressing tumours are mainly associated with a mesenchymal phenotype. WT1 gene expression also correlates with CYP3A4 levels and is associated with poorer response to taxane treatment. Our work is the first to demonstrate that the known association between WT1 expression in breast cancer and poor prognosis is potentially due to cancer-related epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and poor chemotherapy response.
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