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The glucocorticoid receptor directly regulates thousands of genes across the human genome in a cell-type specific manner, governing various aspects of homeostasis. The influence of the glucocorticoid receptor is also seen in various pathologies, including cancer, where it has been linked to tumorigenesis, metastasis, apoptosis resistance, and therapy bypass. Nonetheless, the direct genetic and molecular underpinnings of glucocorticoid action in cancer remain elusive. Here, we dissected the glucocorticoid receptor signalling axis and uncovered the mechanism of glucocorticoid-mediated cancer cell dormancy. Upon glucocorticoid receptor activation cancer cells undergo quiescence, subserved by cell cycle arrest through CDKN1C and reprogramming of signalling orchestrated via FOXO1/IRS2. Strikingly, co-expression of these three genes, directly regulated by glucocorticoid-induced chromatin looping, correlates with a benign molecular phenotype across human cancers, whereas triple loss is associated with increased expression of proliferation/aggressiveness markers. Finally, we show that the glucocorticoid receptor signalling axis is inactivated by alterations of either the chromatin remodelling complex or TP53 in vitro and in vivo. Our results indicate that the activation of the glucocorticoid receptor leads to cancer cell dormancy, which has several implications in terms of glucocorticoid use in cancer therapy.

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