Sex can be an important determinant of cancer phenotype, and exploring sex-biased tumor biology holds promise for identifying novel therapeutic targets and new approaches to cancer treatment. In an established isogenic murine model of glioblastoma (GBM), we discovered correlated transcriptome-wide sex differences in gene expression, H3K27ac marks, large Brd4-bound enhancer usage, and Brd4 localization to Myc and p53 genomic binding sites. These sex-biased gene expression patterns were also evident in human glioblastoma stem cells (GSCs). These observations led us to hypothesize that Brd4-bound enhancers might underlie sex differences in stem cell function and tumorigenicity in GBM. We found that male and female GBM cells exhibited sex-specific responses to pharmacological or genetic inhibition of Brd4. Brd4 knockdown or pharmacologic inhibition decreased male GBM cell clonogenicity and in vivo tumorigenesis while increasing both in female GBM cells. These results were validated in male and female patient-derived GBM cell lines. Furthermore, analysis of the Cancer Therapeutic Response Portal of human GBM samples segregated by sex revealed that male GBM cells are significantly more sensitive to BET (bromodomain and extraterminal) inhibitors than are female cells. Thus, Brd4 activity is revealed to drive sex differences in stem cell and tumorigenic phenotypes, which can be abrogated by sex-specific responses to BET inhibition. This has important implications for the clinical evaluation and use of BET inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2017148118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 20 2021


  • BET inhibitors
  • Brd4-bound enhancers
  • Glioblastoma
  • Sex differences
  • Sex-specific transcriptional programs


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