TrkA expression directs the anti-neoplastic activity of MLK3 inhibitors in triple-negative breast cancer

Rakesh Sathish Nair, Sandeep Kumar, Subhasis Das, Sunil Kumar Singh, Piush Srivastava, Gautam Sondarva, Arundhati Rao, Subhash C. Sinha, Rui Xiong, Laura Bloem, Kent Hoskins, Gregory R.J. Thatcher, Basabi Rana, Ajay Rana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Mixed Lineage Kinase 3 (MLK3) is a viable target for neoplastic diseases; however, it is unclear whether its activators or inhibitors can act as anti-neoplastic agents. We reported that the MLK3 kinase activity was higher in triple-negative (TNBC) than in hormone receptor-positive human breast tumors, where estrogen inhibited MLK3 kinase activity and provided a survival advantage to ER+ breast cancer cells. Herein, we show that in TNBC, the higher MLK3 kinase activity paradoxically promotes cancer cell survival. Knockdown of MLK3 or MLK3 inhibitors, CEP-1347 and URMC-099, attenuated tumorigenesis of TNBC cell line and Patient-Derived (PDX) xenografts. The MLK3 kinase inhibitors decreased both the expression and activation of MLK3, PAK1, and NF-kB protein and caused cell death in TNBC breast xenografts. RNA-seq analysis identified several genes downregulated by MLK3 inhibition, and the NGF/TrkA MAPK pathway was significantly enriched in tumors sensitive to growth inhibition by MLK3 inhibitors. The TNBC cell line unresponsive to kinase inhibitor had substantially lower TrkA, and overexpression of TrkA restored the sensitivity to MLK3 inhibition. These results suggest that the functions of MLK3 in breast cancer cells depend on downstream targets in TNBC tumors expressing TrkA, and MLK3 kinase inhibition may provide a novel targeted therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1132-1143
Number of pages12
Issue number14
StatePublished - Mar 30 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


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