J. Cell. Physiol. 238 (4) 790-812 [2023-04-00; online 2023-02-15]
The liver kinase B1 (LKB1) controls cellular metabolism and cell polarity across species. We previously established a mechanism for negative regulation of transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) signaling by LKB1. The impact of this mechanism in the context of epithelial polarity and morphogenesis remains unknown. After demonstrating that human mammary tissue expresses robust LKB1 protein levels, whereas invasive breast cancer exhibits significantly reduced LKB1 levels, we focused on mammary morphogenesis studies in three dimensional (3D) acinar organoids. CRISPR/Cas9-introduced loss-of-function mutations of STK11 (LKB1) led to profound defects in the formation of 3D organoids, resulting in amorphous outgrowth and loss of rotation of young organoids embedded in matrigel. This defect was associated with an enhanced signaling by TGFβ, including TGFβ auto-induction and induction of transcription factors that mediate epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Protein marker analysis confirmed a more efficient EMT response to TGFβ signaling in LKB1 knockout cells. Accordingly, chemical inhibition of the TGFβ type I receptor kinase largely restored the morphogenetic defect of LKB1 knockout cells. Similarly, chemical inhibition of the bone morphogenetic protein pathway or the TANK-binding kinase 1, or genetic silencing of the EMT factor SNAI1, partially restored the LKB1 knockout defect. Thus, LKB1 sustains mammary epithelial morphogenesis by limiting pathways that promote EMT. The observed downregulation of LKB1 expression in breast cancer is therefore predicted to associate with enhanced EMT induced by SNAI1 and TGFβ family members.