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Breast cancer cell-response to inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6 (IL-6) and oncostatin M (OSM) may affect the course of clinical disease in a cancer subtype-dependent manner. Furthermore, vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF) secretion induced by IL-6 and OSM may also be subtype-dependent. Utilizing datasets from Oncomine, we show that poor survival of invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) breast cancer patients is correlated with both high VEGF expression and high cytokine or cytokine receptor expression in tumors. Importantly, epidermal growth factor receptor-negative (HER2-), but not HER2-positive (HER2+), patient survival is significantly lower with high tumor co-expression of VEGF and OSM, OSMRβ, IL-6, or IL-6Rα compared to low co-expression. Furthermore, assessment of HER2- breast cancer cells in vitro identified unique signaling differences regulating cytokine-induced VEGF secretion. The levels of VEGF secretion were analyzed by ELISA with siRNAs for hypoxia inducible factor 1 α (HIF1α) and signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3). Specifically, we found that estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) MDA-MB-231 cells respond only to OSM through STAT3 signaling, while ER+ T47D cells respond to both OSM and IL-6, though to IL-6 to a lesser extent. Additionally, in the ER+ T47D cells, OSM signals through both STAT3 and HIF1α. These results highlight that the survival of breast cancer patients with high co-expression of VEGF and IL-6 family cytokines is dependent on breast cancer subtype. Thus, the heterogeneity of human breast cancer in relation to IL-6 family cytokines and VEGF may have important implications in clinical treatment options, disease progression, and ultimately patient prognosis.

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