Epsins 1 and 2 promote NEMO linear ubiquitination via LUBAC to drive breast cancer development.
Estrogen receptor-negative (ER-negative) breast cancer is thought to be more malignant and devastating than ER-positive breast cancer. ER-negative breast cancer exhibits elevated NF-κB activity, but how this abnormally high NF-κB activity is maintained is poorly understood. The importance of linear ubiquitination, which is generated by the linear ubiquitin chain assembly complex (LUBAC), is increasingly appreciated in NF-κB signaling, which regulates cell activation and death. Here, we showed that epsin proteins, a family of ubiquitin-binding endocytic adaptors, interacted with LUBAC via its ubiquitin-interacting motif and bound LUBAC's bona fide substrate NEMO via its N-terminal homolog (ENTH) domain. Furthermore, epsins promoted NF-κB essential modulator (NEMO) linear ubiquitination and served as scaffolds for recruiting other components of the IκB kinase (IKK) complex, resulting in the heightened IKK activation and sustained NF-κB signaling essential for the development of ER-negative breast cancer. Heightened epsin levels in ER-negative human breast cancer are associated with poor relapse-free survival. We showed that transgenic and pharmacological approaches eliminating epsins potently impeded breast cancer development in both spontaneous and patient-derived xenograft breast cancer mouse models. Our findings established the pivotal role epsins played in promoting breast cancer. Thus, targeting epsins may represent a strategy to restrain NF-κB signaling and provide an important perspective into ER-negative breast cancer treatment.