The structure of O-glycosylated proteins is altered in breast cancer cells, but the mechanisms of such an aberrant modification have been largely unknown. We here report critical roles of a novel druggable target, polypeptide N-acetylgalactosaminyltransferase 6 (GALNT6), which is upregulated in a great majority of breast cancers and encodes a glycosyltransferase responsible for initiating mucin-type O-glycosylation. Knockdown of GALNT6 by small interfering RNA significantly enhanced cell adhesion function and suppressed the growth of breast cancer cells. Western blot and immunostaining analyses indicated that wild-type GALNT6 protein could glycosylate and stabilize an oncoprotein mucin 1 (MUC1), which was upregulated with GALNT6 in breast cancer specimens. Furthermore, knockdown of GALNT6 or MUC1 led to similar morphologic changes of cancer cells accompanied by the increase of cell adhesion molecules β-catenin and E-cadherin. Our findings implied that overexpression of GALNT6 might contribute to mammary carcinogenesis through aberrant glycosylation and stabilization of MUC1 and that screening of GALNT6 inhibitors would be valuable for the development of novel therapeutic modalities against breast cancer.
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