Glucocorticoid Receptors Drive Breast Cancer Cell Migration and Metabolic Reprogramming via PDK4

Amy R. Dwyer, Carlos Perez Kerkvliet, Thu H. Truong, Kyla M. Hagen, Raisa I. Krutilina, Deanna N. Parke, Robert H. Oakley, Christopher Liddle, John A. Cidlowski, Tiffany N. Seagroves, Carol A. Lange

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Corticosteroids act on the glucocorticoid receptor (GR; NR3C1) to resolve inflammation and are routinely prescribed to breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment to alleviate side effects. Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs) account for 15% to 20% of diagnoses and lack expression of estrogen and progesterone receptors as well as amplified HER2, but they often express high GR levels. GR is a mediator of TNBC progression to advanced metastatic disease; however, the mechanisms underpinning this transition to more aggressive behavior remain elusive. We previously showed that tissue/cellular stress (hypoxia, chemotherapies) as well as factors in the tumor microenvironment (transforming growth factor β [TGF-β], hepatocyte growth factor [HGF]) activate p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), which phosphorylates GR on Ser134. In the absence of ligand, pSer134-GR further upregulates genes important for responses to cellular stress, including key components of the p38 MAPK pathway. Herein, we show that pSer134-GR is required for TNBC metastatic colonization to the lungs of female mice. To understand the mechanisms of pSer134-GR action in the presence of GR agonists, we examined glucocorticoid-driven transcriptomes in CRISPR knock-in models of TNBC cells expressing wild-type or phospho-mutant (S134A) GR. We identified dexamethasone- and pSer134-GR-dependent regulation of specific gene sets controlling TNBC migration (NEDD9, CSF1, RUNX3) and metabolic adaptation (PDK4, PGK1, PFKFB4). TNBC cells harboring S134A-GR displayed metabolic reprogramming that was phenocopied by pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 4 (PDK4) knockdown. PDK4 knockdown or chemical inhibition also blocked cancer cell migration. Our results reveal a convergence of GR agonists (ie, host stress) with cellular stress signaling whereby pSer134-GR critically regulates TNBC metabolism, an exploitable target for the treatment of this deadly disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberbqad083
JournalEndocrinology (United States)
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Endocrine Society. All rights reserved.


  • breast cancer
  • glucocorticoid receptor
  • metabolic adaptation
  • metastasis
  • migration
  • phosphorylation

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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