Cell-based siRNA screens highlight triple-negative breast cancer cell epigenetic vulnerability

Albane Gaudeau, Coralie Clua Provost, Thierry Dorval, Andrew Walsh, Michael Hannus, Franck Perez, Jacques Camonis, Elaine Del Nery, Jean-Philippe Stephan


Background: Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a heterogeneous disease defined by ER-, PR- and HER2-negative phenotype and in most cases, a relatively aggressive clinical behaviour. The lack of specific targeted therapies and low efficiency of currently available chemotherapies spurred several clinical trials in the last few years. Despite encouraging results, TNBC still remains a major unmet medical need that prompted us to explore the role of 863 epigenetic modulators in TNBC cell survival.

Methods: A comprehensive siRNA library was screened to explore the role of known epigenetic modulators in TNBC cell viability and growth. The knock-down effect was evaluated for 863 epigenetic genes using 4 siRNAs/gene in two TNBC and a non-TNBC cell lines using ATP-based luminescence and nuclei count image-based assays. Considering siRNA off-target effects, four analysis methods including a classical threshold-based analysis and three ranking methods were applied to determine on-target hits for each screen readout. Hit genes common to both phenotypic readouts highlighted strong epigenetic players involved in TNBC cell survival.

Results: Overall, knock-down of many epigenetic modulator genes mitigates cell survival in TNBC and a non-TNBC cell lines depicted from both phenotypic readouts. Interestingly, ranking-based analysis confirmed hit genes identified in threshold-based analysis and also revealed additional hits enabling us to confirm CDK1 and KMT5A as important regulators in TNBC cell viability and growth. Surprisingly, CHAF1A appeared as a new candidate gene involved in TNBC cell survival.

Conclusions: Taken together, siRNA epigenetic screening results identified CHAF1A as a novel regulator of TNBC cell survival.


TNBC, Epigenetics, siRNA, High-throughput screening

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