Therapy resistance remains a major problem in estrogen receptor-α (ERα)-positive breast cancer. A subgroup of ERα-positive breast cancer is characterized by mosaic presence of a minor population of ERα-negative cancer cells expressing the basal cytokeratin-5 (CK5). These CK5-positive cells are therapy resistant and have increased tumor-initiating potential. Although a series of reports document induction of the CK5-positive cells by progestins, it is unknown if other 3-ketosteroids share this ability. We now report that glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids effectively expand the CK5-positive cell population. CK5-positive cells induced by 3-ketosteroids lacked ERα and progesterone receptors, expressed stem cell marker, CD44, and displayed increased clonogenicity in soft agar and broad drug-resistance in vitro and in vivo.
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