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In this study, we probed the importance of O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT) activity for the survival of tamoxifen-sensitive (TamS) and tamoxifen-resistant (TamR) breast cancer cells. Tamoxifen is an antagonist of estrogen receptor (ERα), a transcription factor expressed in over 50% of breast cancers. ERα-positive breast cancers are successfully treated with tamoxifen; however, a significant number of patients develop tamoxifen-resistant disease. We show that in vitro development of tamoxifen-resistance is associated with increased sensitivity to the OGT small molecule inhibitor OSMI-1. Global transcriptome profiling revealed that TamS cells adapt to OSMI-1 treatment by increasing the expression of histone genes. This is known to mediate chromatin compaction. In contrast, TamR cells respond to OGT inhibition by activating the unfolded protein response and by significantly increasing ERRFI1 expression. ERRFI1 is an endogenous inhibitor of ERBB-signaling, which is a known driver of tamoxifen-resistance. We show that ERRFI1 is selectively downregulated in ERα-positive breast cancers and breast cancers driven by ERBB2. This likely occurs via promoter methylation. Finally, we show that increased ERRFI1 expression is associated with extended survival in patients with ERα-positive tumors (p = 9.2e−8). In summary, we show that tamoxifen-resistance is associated with sensitivity to OSMI-1, and propose that this is explained in part through an epigenetic activation of the tumor-suppressor ERRFI1 in response to OSMI-1 treatment.

Original publication




Journal article


Scientific Reports

Publication Date





16992 - 16992