Interferon regulatory factor-1 (IRF1) is a tumor suppressor that regulates cell fate in several cell types. Here, we report an inverse correlation in expression of nuclear IRF1 and the autophagy regulator ATG7 in human breast cancer cells that directly affects their cell fate. In mice harboring mutant Atg7, nuclear IRF1 was increased in mammary tumors, spleen, and kidney. Mechanistic investigations identified ATG7 and the cell death modulator beclin-1 (BECN1) as negative regulators of IRF1. Silencing ATG7 or BECN1 caused estrogen receptor-a to exit the nucleus at the time when IRF1 nuclear localization occurred. Conversely, silencing IRF1 promoted autophagy by increasing BECN1 and blunting IGF1 receptor and mTOR survival signaling. Loss of IRF1 promoted resistance to antiestrogens, whereas combined silencing of ATG7 and IRF1 restored sensitivity to these agents. Using a mathematical model to prompt signaling hypotheses, we developed evidence that ATG7 silencing could resensitize IRF1-attenuated cells to apoptosis through mechanisms that involve other estrogen-regulated genes. Overall, our work shows how inhibiting the autophagy proteins ATG7 and BECN1 can regulate IRF1-dependent and -independent signaling pathways in ways that engender a new therapeutic strategy to attack breast cancer.
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