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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

MYB suppresses differentiation and apoptosis of human breast cancer cells

Yvette Drabsch1, Robert G Ramsay2 and Thomas J Gonda1*

Author Affiliations

1 University of Queensland Diamantina Institute, University of Queensland, Ipswich Road, Brisbane, Queensland, 4102, Australia

2 Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, East Melbourne and the Pathology Department, The University of Melbourne, St Andrews Place, Parkville, Victoria, 3002, Australia

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Breast Cancer Research 2010, 12:R55  doi:10.1186/bcr2614

Published: 26 July 2010



MYB is highly expressed in estrogen receptor positive (ER + ve) breast tumours and tumour cell lines. We recently demonstrated that MYB is essential for the proliferation of ER + ve breast cancer cells, and have now investigated its role in mammary epithelial differentiation.


MCF-7 breast cancer cells were treated with sodium butyrate, vitamin E succinate or 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate to induce differentiation as measured by Nile Red staining of lipid droplets and β-casein expression. The non-tumorigenic murine mammary epithelial cell (MEC) line, HC11, was induced to differentiate with lactogenic hormones. MYB levels were manipulated by inducible lentiviral shRNA-mediated knockdown and retroviral overexpression.


We found that MYB expression decreases following chemically-induced differentiation of the human breast cancer cell line MCF-7, and hormonally-induced differentiation of a non-tumorigenic murine mammary epithelial cell (MEC) line, HC11. We also found that shRNA-mediated MYB knockdown initiated differentiation of breast cancer cells, and greatly sensitised them to the differentiative and pro-apoptotic effects of differentiation-inducing agents (DIAs). Sensitisation to the pro-apoptotic effects DIAs is mediated by decreased expression of BCL2, which we show here is a direct MYB target in breast cancer cells. Conversely, enforced expression of MYB resulted in the cells remaining in an undifferentiated state, with concomitant suppression of apoptosis, in the presence of DIAs.


Taken together, these data imply that MYB function is critical in regulating the balance between proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis in MECs. Moreover, our findings suggest MYB may be a viable therapeutic target in breast cancer and suggest specific approaches for exploiting this possibility.