Continued androgen receptor (AR) signaling is an established mechanism underlying castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), and suppression of AR signaling remains a therapeutic goal of CRPC therapy. Constitutively active androgen receptor splice variants (AR-Vs) lack the AR ligand-binding domain (AR-LBD), the intended target of androgen deprivation therapies (ADT) including CRPC therapies such as abiraterone and MDV3100. While the canonical full-length AR (AR-FL) and AR-Vs are both increased in CRPC, their expression regulation, associated transcriptional programs, and functional relationships have not been dissected. In this study, we show that suppression of ligand-mediated AR-FL signaling by targeting AR-LBD leads to increased AR-V expression in two cell line models of CRPC. Importantly, treatment-induced AR-Vs activated a distinct expression signature enriched for cell cycle genes without requiring the presence of AR-FL. Conversely, activation of AR-FL signaling suppressed the AR-V signature and activated expression programs mainly associated with macromolecular synthesis, metabolism, and differentiation. In prostate cancer cells and CRPC xenografts treated with MDV3100 or abiraterone, increased expression of two constitutively active AR-Vs, AR-V7 and ARV567ES, but not AR-FL, paralleled increased expression of the AR-driven cell cycle gene UBE2C. Expression of AR-V7, but not AR-FL, was positively correlated with UBE2C in clinical CRPC specimens. Together, our findings support an adaptive shift toward AR-V-mediated signaling in a subset of CRPC tumors as the AR-LBD is rendered inactive, suggesting an important mechanism contributing to drug resistance to CRPC therapy.
Keywords: androgen receptor, castration-resistant prostate cancer, androgen receptor splice variants, MDV3100, abiraterone