Theranostics 2020; 10(8):3816-3832. doi:10.7150/thno.41014

Research Paper

YB-1 interplays with ERα to regulate the stemness and differentiation of ER-positive breast cancer stem cells

Fan Yang1,2, Siqi Chen1, Shengnan He1, Qin Huo1, Ye Hu1, Ni Xie1✉

1. Biobank, Shenzhen Second People's Hospital, First Affiliated Hospital of Shenzhen University, Shenzhen 518035, People's Republic of China
2. Shenzhen institute of advanced technology, Chinese academy of sciences, Shenzhen 518035, People's Republic of China

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Yang F, Chen S, He S, Huo Q, Hu Y, Xie N. YB-1 interplays with ERα to regulate the stemness and differentiation of ER-positive breast cancer stem cells. Theranostics 2020; 10(8):3816-3832. doi:10.7150/thno.41014. Available from

File import instruction


Background: Some stemness-associated transcription factors consistently play essential roles in the maintenance of pluripotency or induce the differentiation of cancer stem cells (CSCs). However, the regulatory mechanism of CSC stemness mediated by transcription factors has not been extensively explored. Here, we show that two transcription factors (YB-1 and ERα), which are simultaneously highly expressed in estrogen receptor (ER)-positive CSCs, interact with each other to regulate the stemness and differentiation of ER-positive CSCs.

Methods: The expression of YB-1 was examined in ER-positive CSCs and patient specimens. Western blot, real-time PCR, cell viability analysis, tumorsphere formation assay and subcutaneous tumorigenesis assays were used to study the stemness functions of YB-1 and ERα in CSCs. The relationship between YB-1 and ERα in cells was studied by promoter activity analysis, the electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA) and the Co-IP assay. The mechanisms and functional significance of YB-1 in the sensitivity of CSCs to tamoxifen were further investigated with both in vitro and in vivo models.

Results: YB-1 was aberrantly upregulated in the cancerous tissue of ER-positive breast cancer patients and in CSCs. Knockdown of YB-1 in ER-positive CSCs significantly inhibited cell stemness and induced differentiation, and the expression of YB-1 could be regulated by estrogen signaling and ERα in ER-positive breast CSCs. The Co-IP results showed that YB-1 interacted directly with ERα specifically in ER-positive non-CSCs and that YB-1 induced ERα degradation by ubiquitination via direct interaction in differentiated cells. Cell differentiation induced by FBS could inhibit YB-1 phosphorylation and promote YB-1 protein transfer from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. Moreover, cell differentiation induced by targeting inhibited the expression of YB-1 in ER-positive CSCs, which increased the sensitivity of cells to tamoxifen in vitro and in vivo.

Conclusion: The ERα/YB-1 axis has an important role in the regulation of ER-positive breast cancer stemness. The dephosphorylation of YB-1 and the interaction between YB-1 and ERα may be the switch that initiates the differentiation of ER-positive CSCs. Targeting YB-1 to sensitize ER-positive CSCs to antiestrogen therapy might represent a new therapeutic strategy that warrants further exploration.

Keywords: cancer stem cell, YB-1, ERα, stemness, differentiation