Search tips
Search criteria

Results 1-25 (1137877)

Clipboard (0)

Related Articles

1.  The growth response to androgen receptor signaling in ERα-negative human breast cells is dependent on p21 and mediated by MAPK activation 
Although a high frequency of androgen receptor (AR) expression in human breast cancers has been described, exploiting this knowledge for therapy has been challenging. This is in part because androgens can either inhibit or stimulate cell proliferation in pre-clinical models of breast cancer. In addition, many breast cancers co-express other steroid hormone receptors that can affect AR signaling, further obfuscating the effects of androgens on breast cancer cells.
To create better-defined models of AR signaling in human breast epithelial cells, we took estrogen receptor (ER)-α-negative and progesterone receptor (PR)-negative human breast epithelial cell lines, both cancerous and non-cancerous, and engineered them to express AR, thus allowing the unambiguous study of AR signaling. We cloned a full-length cDNA of human AR, and expressed this transgene in MCF-10A non-tumorigenic human breast epithelial cells and MDA-MB-231 human breast-cancer cells. We characterized the responses to AR ligand binding using various assays, and used isogenic MCF-10A p21 knock-out cell lines expressing AR to demonstrate the requirement for p21 in mediating the proliferative responses to AR signaling in human breast epithelial cells.
We found that hyperactivation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway from both AR and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling resulted in a growth-inhibitory response, whereas MAPK signaling from either AR or EGFR activation resulted in cellular proliferation. Additionally, p21 gene knock-out studies confirmed that AR signaling/activation of the MAPK pathway is dependent on p21.
These studies present a new model for the analysis of AR signaling in human breast epithelial cells lacking ERα/PR expression, providing an experimental system without the potential confounding effects of ERα/PR crosstalk. Using this system, we provide a mechanistic explanation for previous observations ascribing a dual role for AR signaling in human breast cancer cells. As previous reports have shown that approximately 40% of breast cancers can lack p21 expression, our data also identify potential new caveats for exploiting AR as a target for breast cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC3496145  PMID: 22321971
2.  Androgen Receptor Expression in Breast Cancer in Relation to Molecular Phenotype: Results from the Nurses’ Health Study 
Prior studies have demonstrated that androgen receptor is expressed in many breast cancers, but its expression in relation to the various breast cancer subtypes as defined by molecular profiling has not been studied in detail.
We constructed tissue microarrays from 3,093 breast cancers that developed in women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study. Tissue microarray sections were immunostained for estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, human epidermal growth factor receptor2, cytokeratin 5/6, epidermal growth factor receptor and androgen receptor. Immunostain results were used to categorize each cancer as luminal A or B, HER2 and basal-like. The relationships between androgen receptor expression and molecular subtype were analyzed.
Overall, 77% of the invasive breast carcinomas were androgen receptor positive. Among 2,171 invasive cancers, 64% were luminal A, 15% luminal B, 6% HER2 and 11% basal-like. The frequency of androgen receptor expression varied significantly across the molecular phenotypes (p<0.0001). In particular, androgen receptor expression was commonly observed in luminal A (91%) and B (68%) cancers, but was less frequently seen in HER2 cancers (59%). Despite being defined by the absence of estrogen and progesterone receptor expression and being considered hormonally unresponsive, 32% of basal-like cancers expressed androgen receptor. Among 246 cases of ductal carcinoma in situ, 86% were androgen receptor-positive, but the frequency of androgen receptor expression differed significantly across the molecular phenotypes (p=0.001) and high nuclear grade lesions were less likely to be androgen receptor-positive compared with lower grade lesions.
Androgen receptor expression is most commonly seen in luminal A and B invasive breast cancers. However, expression of androgen receptor is also seen in approximately one-third of basal-like cancers, providing further evidence that basal-like cancers represent a heterogeneous group. Our findings raise the possibility that targeting the androgen receptor pathway may represent a novel therapeutic approach to the management of patients with basal-like cancers.
PMCID: PMC3128675  PMID: 21552212
3.  Receptor-Defined Subtypes of Breast Cancer in Indigenous Populations in Africa: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(9):e1001720.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Isabel dos Santos Silva and colleagues estimate the prevalence of receptor-defined subtypes of breast cancer in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Breast cancer is the most common female cancer in Africa. Receptor-defined subtypes are a major determinant of treatment options and disease outcomes but there is considerable uncertainty regarding the frequency of poor prognosis estrogen receptor (ER) negative subtypes in Africa. We systematically reviewed publications reporting on the frequency of breast cancer receptor-defined subtypes in indigenous populations in Africa.
Methods and Findings
Medline, Embase, and Global Health were searched for studies published between 1st January 1980 and 15th April 2014. Reported proportions of ER positive (ER+), progesterone receptor positive (PR+), and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 positive (HER2+) disease were extracted and 95% CI calculated. Random effects meta-analyses were used to pool estimates. Fifty-four studies from North Africa (n = 12,284 women with breast cancer) and 26 from sub-Saharan Africa (n = 4,737) were eligible. There was marked between-study heterogeneity in the ER+ estimates in both regions (I2>90%), with the majority reporting proportions between 0.40 and 0.80 in North Africa and between 0.20 and 0.70 in sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, large between-study heterogeneity was observed for PR+ and HER2+ estimates (I2>80%, in all instances). Meta-regression analyses showed that the proportion of ER+ disease was 10% (4%–17%) lower for studies based on archived tumor blocks rather than prospectively collected specimens, and 9% (2%–17%) lower for those with ≥40% versus those with <40% grade 3 tumors. For prospectively collected samples, the pooled proportions for ER+ and triple negative tumors were 0.59 (0.56–0.62) and 0.21 (0.17–0.25), respectively, regardless of region. Limitations of the study include the lack of standardized procedures across the various studies; the low methodological quality of many studies in terms of the representativeness of their case series and the quality of the procedures for collection, fixation, and receptor testing; and the possibility that women with breast cancer may have contributed to more than one study.
The published data from the more appropriate prospectively measured specimens are consistent with the majority of breast cancers in Africa being ER+. As no single subtype dominates in the continent availability of receptor testing should be a priority, especially for young women with early stage disease where appropriate receptor-specific treatment modalities offer the greatest potential for reducing years of life lost.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Breast cancer is the commonest female tumor in Africa and death rates from the disease in some African countries are among the highest in the world. Breast cancer begins when cells in the breast acquire genetic changes that allow them to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body. When a breast lump is found (by mammography or manual examination), a few cells are collected from the lump (a biopsy) to look for abnormal cells and to test for the presence of estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2) on the cells. The hormones estrogen and progesterone promote the growth of normal breast cells and of ER+ and PR+ breast cancer cells. HER2 also controls the growth of breast cells. The receptor status of breast cancer is a major determinant of treatment options and prognosis (likely outcome). ER+ tumors, for example, are more receptive to hormonal therapy and have a better prognosis than ER− tumors, whereas HER2+ tumors, which make large amounts of HER2, are more aggressive than HER2− tumors. Breast cancer is treated by surgically removing the lump or the whole breast (mastectomy) if the tumor has already spread, before killing any remaining cancer cells with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. In addition, ER+, PR+, and HER2+ tumors are treated with drugs that block these receptors (including tamoxifen and trastuzumab), thereby slowing breast cancer growth.
Why Was This Study Done?
ER+ tumors predominate in white women but the proportion of ER+ tumors among US-born black women is slightly lower. The frequency of different receptor-defined subtypes of breast cancer in indigenous populations in Africa is currently unclear but policy makers need this information to help them decide whether routine receptor status testing should be introduced across Africa. Because receptor status is a major determination of treatment options and outcomes, it would be more important to introduce receptor testing if all subtypes are present in breast cancers in indigenous African women and if no one subtype dominates than if most breast cancers in these women are ER+. In this systematic review (a study that uses pre-defined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) and meta-analysis (a statistical approach that combines the results of several studies), the researchers examine the distribution of receptor-defined breast cancer subtypes in indigenous populations in Africa.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 54 relevant studies from North Africa involving 12,284 women with breast cancer (mainly living in Egypt or Tunisia) and 26 studies from sub-Saharan Africa involving 4,737 women with breast cancer (mainly living in Nigeria or South Africa) and used the data from these studies to calculate the proportions of ER+, PR+, and HER2+ tumors (the number of receptor-positive tumors divided by the number of tumors with known receptor status) across Africa. The proportion of ER+ tumors varied markedly between studies, ranging between 0.40 and 0.80 in North Africa and between 0.20 and 0.70 in sub-Saharan Africa. Among prospectively collected samples (samples collected specifically for receptor-status testing; studies that determined the receptor status of breast cancers using stored samples reported a lower proportion of ER+ disease than studies that used prospectively collected samples), the overall pooled proportions of ER+ and triple negative tumors were 0.59 and 0.21, respectively.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although these findings highlight the scarcity of data on hormone receptor and HER2 status in breast cancers in indigenous African populations, they provide new information about the distribution of breast cancer subtypes in Africa. Specifically, these findings suggest that although slightly more than half of breast cancers in Africa are ER+, no single subtype dominates. They also suggest that the distribution of receptor-defined breast cancer subtypes in Africa is similar to that found in Western populations. The accuracy of these findings is likely to be affected by the low methodological quality of many of the studies and the lack of standardized procedures. Thus, large well-designed studies are still needed to accurately quantify the distribution of various breast cancer subtypes across Africa. In the meantime, the current findings support the introduction of routine receptor testing across Africa, especially for young women with early stage breast cancer in whom the potential to improve survival and reduce the years of life lost by knowing the receptor status of an individual's tumor is greatest.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Sulma i Mohammed
The US National Cancer Institute (NCI) provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information for patients and professionals about breast cancer including an online booklet for patients
Cancer Research UK, a not-for profit organization, provides information about cancer; its detailed information about breast cancer includes sections on tests for hormone receptors and HER2 and on treatments that target hormone receptors and treatments that target HER2 is a not-for-profit organization that provides up-to-date information about breast cancer (in English and Spanish), including information on hormone receptor status and HER2 status
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer; the not-for profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer
PMCID: PMC4159229  PMID: 25202974
4.  Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs) Negatively Regulate Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Growth and Epithelial:Mesenchymal Stem Cell Signaling 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e103202.
The androgen receptor (AR) is the most highly expressed steroid receptor in breast cancer with 75–95% of estrogen receptor (ER)-positive and 40–70% of ER-negative breast cancers expressing AR. Though historically breast cancers were treated with steroidal androgens, their use fell from favor because of their virilizing side effects and the emergence of tamoxifen. Nonsteroidal, tissue selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) may provide a novel targeted approach to exploit the therapeutic benefits of androgen therapy in breast cancer.
Materials and Methods
Since MDA-MB-453 triple-negative breast cancer cells express mutated AR, PTEN, and p53, MDA-MB-231 triple-negative breast cancer cells stably expressing wildtype AR (MDA-MB-231-AR) were used to evaluate the in vitro and in vivo anti-proliferative effects of SARMs. Microarray analysis and epithelial:mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) co-culture signaling studies were performed to understand the mechanisms of action.
Dihydrotestosterone and SARMs, but not bicalutamide, inhibited the proliferation of MDA-MB-231-AR. The SARMs reduced the MDA-MB-231-AR tumor growth and tumor weight by greater than 90%, compared to vehicle-treated tumors. SARM treatment inhibited the intratumoral expression of genes and pathways that promote breast cancer development through its actions on the AR. SARM treatment also inhibited the metastasis-promoting paracrine factors, IL6 and MMP13, and subsequent migration and invasion of epithelial:MSC co-cultures.
1. AR stimulation inhibits paracrine factors that are important for MSC interactions and breast cancer invasion and metastasis. 2. SARMs may provide promise as novel targeted therapies to treat AR-positive triple-negative breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC4114483  PMID: 25072326
5.  DAX-1, as an androgen-target gene, inhibits aromatase expression: a novel mechanism blocking estrogen-dependent breast cancer cell proliferation 
Cell Death & Disease  2013;4(7):e724-.
Sexual hormones, estrogens and androgens, determine biological response in a tissue- and gender-specific manner and have a pivotal role in endocrine-mediated tumorigenesis. In situ estrogen production by aromatase is a critical determinant for breast cancer growth and progression. On the contrary, clinical and in vitro studies indicate that androgens have a protective role in mammary carcinogenesis. Here, we demonstrated, in hormone-dependent breast cancer cells, the existence of a functional interplay between the androgen receptor (AR), the orphan nuclear receptor DAX-1 and the aromatase enzyme involved in the inhibition of the estrogen-dependent breast cancer cell proliferation exerted by androgen signaling. Indeed, our results revealed, in MCF-7 cells, that ligand-activated AR induces the expression of the orphan nuclear receptor DAX-1 by direct binding to a newly identified androgen-response-element within the DAX-1 proximal promoter. In turn, androgen-induced DAX-1 is recruited, in association with the corepressor N-CoR, within the SF-1/LRH-1 containing region of the aromatase promoter, thereby repressing aromatase expression and activity. In elucidating a novel mechanism by which androgens, through DAX-1, inhibit aromatase expression in breast cancer cell lines, these findings reinforce the theory of androgen- opposing estrogen-action, opening new avenues for therapeutic intervention in estrogen-dependent breast tumors.
PMCID: PMC3730409  PMID: 23846226
breast cancer; androgen receptor; DAX-1; aromatase
6.  Subtyping of Breast Cancer by Immunohistochemistry to Investigate a Relationship between Subtype and Short and Long Term Survival: A Collaborative Analysis of Data for 10,159 Cases from 12 Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(5):e1000279.
Paul Pharoah and colleagues evaluate the prognostic significance of immunohistochemical subtype classification in more than 10,000 breast cancer cases with early disease, and examine the influence of a patient's survival time on the prediction of future survival.
Immunohistochemical markers are often used to classify breast cancer into subtypes that are biologically distinct and behave differently. The aim of this study was to estimate mortality for patients with the major subtypes of breast cancer as classified using five immunohistochemical markers, to investigate patterns of mortality over time, and to test for heterogeneity by subtype.
Methods and Findings
We pooled data from more than 10,000 cases of invasive breast cancer from 12 studies that had collected information on hormone receptor status, human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2) status, and at least one basal marker (cytokeratin [CK]5/6 or epidermal growth factor receptor [EGFR]) together with survival time data. Tumours were classified as luminal and nonluminal tumours according to hormone receptor expression. These two groups were further subdivided according to expression of HER2, and finally, the luminal and nonluminal HER2-negative tumours were categorised according to expression of basal markers. Changes in mortality rates over time differed by subtype. In women with luminal HER2-negative subtypes, mortality rates were constant over time, whereas mortality rates associated with the luminal HER2-positive and nonluminal subtypes tended to peak within 5 y of diagnosis and then decline over time. In the first 5 y after diagnosis the nonluminal tumours were associated with a poorer prognosis, but over longer follow-up times the prognosis was poorer in the luminal subtypes, with the worst prognosis at 15 y being in the luminal HER2-positive tumours. Basal marker expression distinguished the HER2-negative luminal and nonluminal tumours into different subtypes. These patterns were independent of any systemic adjuvant therapy.
The six subtypes of breast cancer defined by expression of five markers show distinct behaviours with important differences in short term and long term prognosis. Application of these markers in the clinical setting could have the potential to improve the targeting of adjuvant chemotherapy to those most likely to benefit. The different patterns of mortality over time also suggest important biological differences between the subtypes that may result in differences in response to specific therapies, and that stratification of breast cancers by clinically relevant subtypes in clinical trials is urgently required.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Each year, more than one million women discover they have breast cancer. Breast cancer begins when cells in the breast's milk-producing glands or in the tubes (ducts) that take milk to the nipples acquire genetic changes that allow them to divide uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize). The uncontrolled cell division leads to the formation of a lump that can be detected by mammography (a breast X-ray) or by manual breast examination. Breast cancer is treated by surgical removal of the lump or, if the cancer has started to spread, by removal of the whole breast (mastectomy). Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. These “adjuvant” therapies are designed to kill any remaining cancer cells but can make women very ill. Generally speaking, the outlook (prognosis) for women with breast cancer is good. In the United States, for example, nearly 90% of affected women are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because there are several types of cells in the milk ducts and glands, there are several subtypes of breast cancer. Luminal tumors, for example, begin in the cells that line the ducts and glands and usually grow slowly; basal-type tumors arise in deeper layers of the ducts and glands and tend to grow quickly. Clinicians need to distinguish between different breast cancer subtypes so that they can give women a realistic prognosis and can give adjuvant treatments to those women who are most likely to benefit. One way to distinguish between different subtypes is to stain breast cancer samples using antibodies (immune system proteins) that recognize particular proteins (antigens). This “immunohistochemical” approach can identify several breast cancer subtypes but its prognostic value and the best way to classify breast tumors remains unclear. In this study, the researchers investigate the survival over time of women with six major subtypes of breast cancer classified using five immunohistochemical markers: the estrogen receptor and the progesterone receptor (two hormone receptors expressed by luminal cells), the human epidermal growth factors receptor-2 (HER2, a protein marker used to select specific adjuvant therapies), and CK5/6 and EGFR (proteins expressed by basal cells).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers pooled data on survival time and on the expression of the five immunohistochemical markers from more than 10,000 cases of breast cancer from 12 studies. They then divided the tumors into six subtypes on the basis of their marker expression: luminal (hormone receptor-positive), HER2-positive tumors; luminal, HER2-negative, basal marker-positive tumors; luminal, HER2-negative, basal marker-negative tumors; nonluminal (hormone receptor-negative), HER2-positive tumors; nonluminal, HER2-negative, basal marker-positive tumors; and nonluminal, HER2-negative, basal marker-negative tumors. In the first five years after diagnosis, women with nonluminal tumor subtypes had the worst prognosis but at 15 years after diagnosis, women with luminal HER2-positive tumors had the worst prognosis. Furthermore, death rates (the percentage of affected women dying each year) differed by subtype over time. Thus, women with the two luminal HER2-negative subtypes were as likely to die soon after diagnosis as at later times whereas the death rates associated with nonluminal subtypes peaked within five years of diagnosis and then declined.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These and other findings indicate that the six subtypes of breast cancer defined by the expression of five immunohistochemical markers have distinct biological characteristics that are associated with important differences in short-term and long-term outcomes. Because different laboratories measured the immunohistochemical markers using different methods, it is possible that some of the tumors included in this study were misclassified. However, the finding of clear differences in the behavior of the immunochemically classified subtypes suggests that the use of the five markers for tumor classification might be robust enough for routine clinical practice. The application of these markers in the clinical setting, suggest the researchers, could improve the targeting of adjuvant therapies to those women most likely to benefit. Furthermore, note the researchers, these findings strongly suggest that subtype-specific responses should be evaluated in future clinical trials of treatments for breast cancer.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Stefan Ambs
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and health professionals on all aspects of breast cancer (in English and Spanish)
The American Cancer Society has a detailed guide to breast cancer, which includes information on the immunochemical classification of breast cancer subtypes
The UK charities MacMillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK also provide detailed information about breast cancer
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia provides information for patients about breast cancer; Medline Plus provides links to many other breast cancer resources (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2876119  PMID: 20520800
7.  The Role of Androgens in Normal and Malignant Breast Tissue 
Breast Care  2008;3(5):325-331.
Androgens, like estrogens, can be synthesized in the breast. As both active androgens and their corresponding receptors are present in breast tissue, we conclude that they play a role in breast physiology. This is supported by the fact that insufficient androgen production or sensitivity results in the development of gynecomastia. Complete androgen insensitivity due to receptor defects leads to normal female breast development in these XY women. While breast development is completely inhibited by male testosterone levels, partial but not total degradation of a developed breast by androgen treatment appears to be possible. Breast cancer in early stages seems to fulfill the prerequisites of androgen responsiveness. Androgen treatment of advanced breast cancer has shown similar effectiveness as anti-estrogen or estrogen-ablative therapy, but also considerable side effects. It has been speculated that the use of selective androgen modulators (SARMs), either alone or preferably in addition to anti-estrogens or aromatase inhibitors, may be a promising alternative to current therapy modalities in hormone-dependent breast cancer. In addition, future studies on the use of SARMs in prophylactic settings seem to be justified.
PMCID: PMC2931104  PMID: 20824027
Androgens; Paracrine mechanisms; Breast; Breast cancer
8.  Subtype classification for prediction of prognosis of breast cancer from a biomarker panel: correlations and indications 
Hormone receptors, including the estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), and other biomarkers like Ki67, epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR, also known as HER1), the androgen receptor, and p53, are key molecules in breast cancer. This study evaluated the relationship between HER2 and hormone receptors and explored the additional prognostic value of Ki67, EGFR, the androgen receptor, and p53.
Quantitative determination of HER2 and EGFR was performed in 240 invasive breast cancer tissue microarray specimens using quantum dot (QD)-based nanotechnology. We identified two subtypes of HER2, ie, high total HER2 load (HTH2) and low total HER2 load (LTH2), and three subtypes of hormone receptor, ie, high hormone receptor (HHR), low hormone receptor (LHR), and no hormone receptor (NHR). Therefore, breast cancer patients could be divided into five subtypes according to HER2 and hormone receptor status. Ki67, p53, and the androgen receptor were determined by traditional immunohistochemistry techniques. The relationship between hormone receptors and HER2 was investigated and the additional value of Ki67, EGFR, the androgen receptor, and p53 for prediction of 5-year disease-free survival was assessed.
In all patients, quantitative determination showed a statistically significant (P<0.001) negative correlation between HER2 and the hormone receptors and a significant positive correlation (P<0.001) between the estrogen receptor and the progesterone receptor (r=0.588), but a significant negative correlation (P<0.001, r=−0.618) with the HHR subtype. There were significant differences between the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and HER2 subtypes with regard to total HER2 load and hormone receptor subtypes. The rates of androgen receptor and p53 positivity were 46.3% and 57.0%, respectively. Other than the androgen receptor, differences in expression of Ki67, EGFR, and p53 did not achieve statistical significance (P>0.05) between the five subtypes. EGFR and Ki67 had prognostic significance for 5-year disease-free survival in univariate analysis, but the androgen receptor and p53 did not. Multivariate analysis identified that EGFR expression had predictive significance for 5-year disease-free survival in hormone-receptor positive patients and in those with the lymph node-positive breast cancer subtype.
Hormone receptor expression was indeed one of the molecular profiles in the subtypes identified by quantitative HER2 and vice versa. EGFR status may provide discriminative prognostic information in addition to HER2 and hormone receptor status, and should be integrated into routine practice to help formulate more specific prediction of the prognosis and appropriate individualized treatment.
PMCID: PMC3937188  PMID: 24591826
quantum dots; breast cancer; molecular classification; prognosis; prediction
9.  Multi-Variant Pathway Association Analysis Reveals the Importance of Genetic Determinants of Estrogen Metabolism in Breast and Endometrial Cancer Susceptibility 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(7):e1001012.
Despite the central role of estrogen exposure in breast and endometrial cancer development and numerous studies of genes in the estrogen metabolic pathway, polymorphisms within the pathway have not been consistently associated with these cancers. We posit that this is due to the complexity of multiple weak genetic effects within the metabolic pathway that can only be effectively detected through multi-variant analysis. We conducted a comprehensive association analysis of the estrogen metabolic pathway by interrogating 239 tagSNPs within 35 genes of the pathway in three tumor samples. The discovery sample consisted of 1,596 breast cancer cases, 719 endometrial cancer cases, and 1,730 controls from Sweden; and the validation sample included 2,245 breast cancer cases and 1,287 controls from Finland. We performed admixture maximum likelihood (AML)–based global tests to evaluate the cumulative effect from multiple SNPs within the whole metabolic pathway and three sub-pathways for androgen synthesis, androgen-to-estrogen conversion, and estrogen removal. In the discovery sample, although no single polymorphism was significant after correction for multiple testing, the pathway-based AML global test suggested association with both breast (pglobal = 0.034) and endometrial (pglobal = 0.052) cancers. Further testing revealed the association to be focused on polymorphisms within the androgen-to-estrogen conversion sub-pathway, for both breast (pglobal = 0.008) and endometrial cancer (pglobal = 0.014). The sub-pathway association was validated in the Finnish sample of breast cancer (pglobal = 0.015). Further tumor subtype analysis demonstrated that the association of the androgen-to-estrogen conversion sub-pathway was confined to postmenopausal women with sporadic estrogen receptor positive tumors (pglobal = 0.0003). Gene-based AML analysis suggested CYP19A1 and UGT2B4 to be the major players within the sub-pathway. Our study indicates that the composite genetic determinants related to the androgen–estrogen conversion are important for the induction of two hormone-associated cancers, particularly for the hormone-driven breast tumour subtypes.
Author Summary
Estrogen exposure is the most important risk factor for breast and endometrial cancers. Genetic variation of the genes involved in estrogen metabolism has, however, not been consistently associated with these two cancers. We posited that the genetic risk associated with the estrogen metabolic genes is likely to be carried by multiple variants and is therefore most effectively detected by multi-variant analysis. We carried out a comprehensive association analysis of the estrogen metabolic pathway by interrogating SNPs within 35 genes of the pathway in three tumor samples from Sweden and Finland. Through pathway-based multi-variant association analysis, we showed that the genetic variation within the estrogen metabolic pathway is associated with risk for breast and endometrial cancers and that the genetic variation within the genes involved in androgen-to-estrogen conversion is particularly important for the development of ER–positive and sporadic breast tumors in postmenopausal women. Our study has demonstrated that the influence of genetic variation on hormone exposure has an impact on breast cancer development, especially on the development of hormone-driven breast tumor subtypes. Our study has also highlighted that future genetic studies of the estrogen metabolic genes should focus on the androgen-to-estrogen conversion process.
PMCID: PMC2895650  PMID: 20617168
10.  Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Mediates Intracrine Survival in Human Breast Carcinoma Cells through Internally Expressed VEGFR1/FLT1 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(6):e186.
While vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression in breast tumors has been correlated with a poor outcome in the pathogenesis of breast cancer, the expression, localization, and function of VEGF receptors VEGFR1 (also known as FLT1) and VEGFR2 (also known as KDR or FLK1), as well as neuropilin 1 (NRP1), in breast cancer are controversial.
Methods and Findings
We investigated the expression and function of VEGF and VEGF receptors in breast cancer cells. We observed that VEGFR1 expression was abundant, VEGFR2 expression was low, and NRP1 expression was variable. MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 breast cancer cells, transfected with antisense VEGF cDNA or with siVEGF (VEGF-targeted small interfering RNA), showed a significant reduction in VEGF expression and increased apoptosis as compared to the control cells. Additionally, specifically targeted knockdown of VEGFR1 expression by siRNA (siVEGFR1) significantly decreased the survival of breast cancer cells through down-regulation of protein kinase B (AKT) phosphorylation, while targeted knockdown of VEGFR2 or NRP1 expression had no effect on the survival of these cancer cells. Since a VEGFR1-specific ligand, placenta growth factor (PGF), did not, as expected, inhibit the breast cancer cell apoptosis induced by siVEGF, and since VEGFR1 antibody also had no effects on the survival of these cells, we examined VEGFR1 localization. VEGFR1 was predominantly expressed internally in MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Specifically, VEGFR1 was found to be colocalized with lamin A/C and was expressed mainly in the nuclear envelope in breast cancer cell lines and primary breast cancer tumors. Breast cancer cells treated with siVEGFR1 showed significantly decreased VEGFR1 expression levels and a lack of VEGFR1 expression in the nuclear envelope.
This study provides, to our knowledge for the first time, evidence of a unique survival system in breast cancer cells by which VEGF can act as an internal autocrine (intracrine) survival factor through its binding to VEGFR1. These results may lead to an improved strategy for tumor therapy based on the inhibition of angiogenesis.
Shalom Avraham and colleagues' study provides evidence of a survival system in breast cancer cells by which VEGF acts as an internal autocrine survival factor through its binding to VEGFR1.
Editors' Summary
One woman in eight will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Most of these women live for many years after their diagnosis and many are cured of their cancer. However, sometimes the cancer grows inexorably and spreads (metastasizes) around the body despite the efforts of oncologists. Characteristics of the tumor known as prognostic factors can indicate whether this spreading is likely to happen. Large tumors that have metastasized have a poorer prognosis than small tumors that are confined to the breast. The expression of specific proteins within the tumor also provides prognostic information. One protein whose expression is associated with a poor prognosis is vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF stimulates angiogenesis—the growth of new blood vessels. Small tumors get the nutrients needed for their growth from existing blood vessels but large tumors need to organize their own blood supply. They do this, in part, by secreting VEGF. This compound binds to proteins (receptors) on the surface of endothelial cells (the cells lining blood vessels), which then send a signal into the cell instructing it to make new blood vessels. Angiogenesis inhibitors, including molecules that block the activity of VEGF receptors, are being developed for the treatment of cancer.
Why Was This Study Done?
Some breast cancer cell lines (cells isolated from breast cancers and grown in the laboratory) make VEGF and VEGF receptors (VEGFR1, VEGFR2, and neuropilin 1 [NRP1]). But, although some studies have reported an association between VEGFR1 expression in breast tumors and a poor prognosis, other studies have found no expression of VEGFR1 in breast tumors. Consequently, the role of VEGF receptors in breast cancer is unclear. In this study, the researchers analyzed the expression and function of VEGF and its receptors in breast cancer cells to investigate whether and how VEGF helps these cells to survive.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers first examined the expression of VEGF receptors in several human breast cancer cell lines. All of them expressed VEGFR1, some expressed NRP1, but VEGFR2 expression was universally low. They then investigated the function of VEGF and its receptors in two human breast cancer cell lines (MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7). In both cell lines, blocking the expression of VEGF or of VEGFR1 (but not of the other two receptors) reduced cell survival by stimulating a specific process of cell death called apoptosis. Unexpectedly, adding VEGF to the cultures did not reverse the effect of blocking VEGF expression, a result that suggests that VEGF and VEGFR1 do not affect breast cancer cell survival by acting at the cell surface. Accordingly, when the researchers examined where VEGFR1 occurs in the cell, they found it on the membranes around the nucleus of the breast cancer cell lines and not on the cell surface; several primary breast tumors and normal breast tissue had the same localization pattern. Finally, the researchers showed that inhibitors of VEGF action that act at the cell surface did not affect the survival of the breast cancer cell lines.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that VEGF helps breast cancer cells to survive in a unique way: by binding to VEGFR1 inside the cell. In other words, whereas VEGF normally acts as a paracrine growth factor (it is released by one cell and affects another cell), in breast cancer cells it might act as an internal autocrine (intracrine) survival factor, a factor that affects the cells in which it is produced. These findings need confirming in more cell lines and in primary breast cancers but could have important implications for the treatment of breast cancer. Inhibitors of VEGF and VEGFR1 that act inside the cell (small molecule drugs) might block breast cancer growth more effectively than inhibitors that act at the cell surface (for example, proteins that bind to the receptor), because internally acting inhibitors might both kill the tumor directly and have antiangiogenic effects, whereas externally acting inhibitors could only have the second effect.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Cancer Institute information for patients and professionals on breast cancer (in English and Spanish) and on angiogenesis (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus Encyclopedia information for patients on breast cancer (in English and Spanish)
CancerQuest, information from Emory University on cancer biology and on angiogenesis and angiogenesis inhibitors (in several languages)
Wikipedia pages on VEGF (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC1885450  PMID: 17550303
11.  1,1-dichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethylene (p,p'-DDE) disrupts the estrogen-androgen balance regulating the growth of hormone-dependent breast cancer cells 
Estrogen and androgen signalling pathways exert opposing influences on the proliferation of mammary epithelial and hormone-dependent breast cancer cells. We previously reported that plasma concentrations of 1,1-dichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethylene (p,p'-DDE), the main metabolite of the insecticide DDT (1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis [p-chlorophenyl]ethane) and a potent androgen antagonist, were associated with tumor aggressiveness in women diagnosed with breast cancer. We sought to examine the biological plausibility of this association by testing the effect of p,p'-DDE on the proliferation of CAMA-1 cells, a human breast cancer cell line that expresses the estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) and the androgen receptor (AR), in the presence of physiological concentrations of estrogens and androgens in the cell culture medium.
The proliferation of CAMA-1 cells was determined in 96-well plates following a 9-day treatment with p,p'-DDE alone (0.1 to 10 μM) or in combination with 17β-estradiol (E2) (100 pM) and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) (100, 500, or 1,000 pM). We also assessed p,p'-DDE-induced modifications in cell cycle entry and the expression of the sex-steroid-dependent genes ESR1, AR, CCND1, and TFF1 (pS2) (mRNA and/or protein).
We found that treatment with p,p'-DDE induced a dose-response increase in the proliferation of CAMA-1 cells when cultivated in the presence of physiological concentrations of estrogens and androgens, but not in the absence of sex steroids in the cell culture medium. A similar effect of p,p'-DDE was noted on the proliferation of MCF7-AR1 cells, an estrogen-responsive cell line that was genetically engineered to overexpress the AR. DHT added together with E2 to the cell culture medium decreased the recruitment of CAMA-1 cells in the S phase and the expression of ESR1 and CCND1 by comparison with cells treated with E2 alone. These androgen-mediated effects were blocked with similar efficacy by p,p'-DDE and the potent antiandrogen hydroxyflutamide.
Our results suggest that p,p'-DDE could increase breast cancer progression by opposing the androgen signalling pathway that inhibits growth in hormone-responsive breast cancer cells. The potential role of environmental antiandrogens in breast carcinogenesis deserves further investigation.
PMCID: PMC2374972  PMID: 18275596
12.  Hedgehog/Gli supports androgen signaling in androgen deprived and androgen independent prostate cancer cells 
Molecular Cancer  2010;9:89.
Castration resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) develops as a consequence of hormone therapies used to deplete androgens in advanced prostate cancer patients. CRPC cells are able to grow in a low androgen environment and this is associated with anomalous activity of their endogenous androgen receptor (AR) despite the low systemic androgen levels in the patients. Therefore, the reactivated tumor cell androgen signaling pathway is thought to provide a target for control of CRPC. Previously, we reported that Hedgehog (Hh) signaling was conditionally activated by androgen deprivation in androgen sensitive prostate cancer cells and here we studied the potential for cross-talk between Hh and androgen signaling activities in androgen deprived and androgen independent (AI) prostate cancer cells.
Treatment of a variety of androgen-deprived or AI prostate cancer cells with the Hh inhibitor, cyclopamine, resulted in dose-dependent modulation of the expression of genes that are regulated by androgen. The effect of cyclopamine on endogenous androgen-regulated gene expression in androgen deprived and AI prostate cancer cells was consistent with the suppressive effects of cyclopamine on the expression of a reporter gene (luciferase) from two different androgen-dependent promoters. Similarly, reduction of smoothened (Smo) expression with siRNA co-suppressed expression of androgen-inducible KLK2 and KLK3 in androgen deprived cells without affecting the expression of androgen receptor (AR) mRNA or protein. Cyclopamine also prevented the outgrowth of AI cells from androgen growth-dependent parental LNCaP cells and suppressed the growth of an overt AI-LNCaP variant whereas supplemental androgen (R1881) restored growth to the AI cells in the presence of cyclopamine. Conversely, overexpression of Gli1 or Gli2 in LNCaP cells enhanced AR-specific gene expression in the absence of androgen. Overexpressed Gli1/Gli2 also enabled parental LNCaP cells to grow in androgen depleted medium. AR protein co-immunoprecipitates with Gli2 protein from transfected 293T cell lysates.
Collectively, our results indicate that Hh/Gli signaling supports androgen signaling and AI growth in prostate cancer cells in a low androgen environment. The finding that Gli2 co-immunoprecipitates with AR protein suggests that an interaction between these proteins might be the basis for Hedgehog/Gli support of androgen signaling under this condition.
PMCID: PMC2873440  PMID: 20420697
13.  DEAR1 Is a Dominant Regulator of Acinar Morphogenesis and an Independent Predictor of Local Recurrence-Free Survival in Early-Onset Breast Cancer 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(5):e1000068.
Ann Killary and colleagues describe a new gene that is genetically altered in breast tumors, and that may provide a new breast cancer prognostic marker.
Breast cancer in young women tends to have a natural history of aggressive disease for which rates of recurrence are higher than in breast cancers detected later in life. Little is known about the genetic pathways that underlie early-onset breast cancer. Here we report the discovery of DEAR1 (ductal epithelium–associated RING Chromosome 1), a novel gene encoding a member of the TRIM (tripartite motif) subfamily of RING finger proteins, and provide evidence for its role as a dominant regulator of acinar morphogenesis in the mammary gland and as an independent predictor of local recurrence-free survival in early-onset breast cancer.
Methods and Findings
Suppression subtractive hybridization identified DEAR1 as a novel gene mapping to a region of high-frequency loss of heterozygosity (LOH) in a number of histologically diverse human cancers within Chromosome 1p35.1. In the breast epithelium, DEAR1 expression is limited to the ductal and glandular epithelium and is down-regulated in transition to ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an early histologic stage in breast tumorigenesis. DEAR1 missense mutations and homozygous deletion (HD) were discovered in breast cancer cell lines and tumor samples. Introduction of the DEAR1 wild type and not the missense mutant alleles to complement a mutation in a breast cancer cell line, derived from a 36-year-old female with invasive breast cancer, initiated acinar morphogenesis in three-dimensional (3D) basement membrane culture and restored tissue architecture reminiscent of normal acinar structures in the mammary gland in vivo. Stable knockdown of DEAR1 in immortalized human mammary epithelial cells (HMECs) recapitulated the growth in 3D culture of breast cancer cell lines containing mutated DEAR1, in that shDEAR1 clones demonstrated disruption of tissue architecture, loss of apical basal polarity, diffuse apoptosis, and failure of lumen formation. Furthermore, immunohistochemical staining of a tissue microarray from a cohort of 123 young female breast cancer patients with a 20-year follow-up indicated that in early-onset breast cancer, DEAR1 expression serves as an independent predictor of local recurrence-free survival and correlates significantly with strong family history of breast cancer and the triple-negative phenotype (ER−, PR−, HER-2−) of breast cancers with poor prognosis.
Our data provide compelling evidence for the genetic alteration and loss of expression of DEAR1 in breast cancer, for the functional role of DEAR1 in the dominant regulation of acinar morphogenesis in 3D culture, and for the potential utility of an immunohistochemical assay for DEAR1 expression as an independent prognostic marker for stratification of early-onset disease.
Editors' Summary
Each year, more than one million women discover that they have breast cancer. This type of cancer begins when cells in the breast that line the milk-producing glands or the tubes that take the milk to the nipples (glandular and ductal epithelial cells, respectively) acquire genetic changes that allow them to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize). The uncontrolled division leads to the formation of a lump that can be detected by mammography (a breast X-ray) or by manual breast examination. Breast cancer is treated by surgical removal of the lump or, if the cancer has started to spread, by removal of the whole breast (mastectomy). Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. These “adjuvant” therapies are designed to kill any remaining cancer cells but can make patients very ill. Generally speaking, the outlook for women with breast cancer is good. In the US, for example, nearly 90% of affected women are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although breast cancer is usually diagnosed in women in their 50s or 60s, some women develop breast cancer much earlier. In these women, the disease is often very aggressive. Compared to older women, young women with breast cancer have a lower overall survival rate and their cancer is more likely to recur locally or to metastasize. It would be useful to be able to recognize those younger women at the greatest risk of cancer recurrence so that they could be offered intensive surveillance and adjuvant therapy; those women at a lower risk could have gentler treatments. To achieve this type of “stratification,” the genetic changes that underlie breast cancer in young women need to be identified. In this study, the researchers discover a gene that is genetically altered (by mutations or deletion) in early-onset breast cancer and then investigate whether its expression can predict outcomes in women with this disease.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used “suppression subtractive hybridization” to identify a new gene in a region of human Chromosome 1 where loss of heterozygosity (LOH; a genetic alteration associated with cancer development) frequently occurs. They called the gene DEAR1 (ductal epithelium-associated RING Chromosome 1) to indicate that it is expressed in ductal and glandular epithelial cells and encodes a “RING finger” protein (specifically, a subtype called a TRIM protein; RING finger proteins such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 have been implicated in early cancer development and in a large fraction of inherited breast cancers). DEAR1 expression was reduced or lost in several ductal carcinomas in situ (a local abnormality that can develop into breast cancer) and advanced breast cancers, the researchers report. Furthermore, many breast tumors carried DEAR1 missense mutations (genetic changes that interfere with the normal function of the DEAR1 protein) or had lost both copies of DEAR1 (the human genome contains two copies of most genes). To determine the function of DEAR1, the researchers replaced a normal copy of DEAR1 into a breast cancer cell that had a mutation in DEAR1. They then examined the growth of these genetically manipulated cells in special three-dimensional cultures. The breast cancer cells without DEAR1 grew rapidly without an organized structure while the breast cancer cells containing the introduced copy of DEAR1 formed structures that resembled normal breast acini (sac-like structures that secrete milk). In normal human mammary epithelial cells, the researchers silenced DEAR1 expression and also showed that without DEAR1, the normal mammary cells lost their ability to form proper acini. Finally, the researchers report that DEAR1 expression (detected “immunohistochemically”) was frequently lost in women who had had early-onset breast cancer and that the loss of DEAR1 expression correlated with reduced local recurrence-free survival, a strong family history of breast cancer and with a breast cancer subtype that has a poor outcome.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that genetic alteration and loss of expression of DEAR1 are common in breast cancer. Although laboratory experiments may not necessarily reflect what happens in people, the results from the three-dimensional culture of breast epithelial cells suggest that DEAR1 may regulate the normal acinar structure of the breast. Consequently, loss of DEAR1 expression could be an early event in breast cancer development. Most importantly, the correlation between DEAR1 expression and both local recurrence in early-onset breast cancer and a breast cancer subtype with a poor outcome suggests that it might be possible to use DEAR1 expression to identify women with early-onset breast cancer who have an increased risk of local recurrence so that they get the most appropriate treatment for their cancer.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Senthil Muthuswamy
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and health professionals on all aspects of breast cancer, including information on genetic alterations in breast cancer (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia provides information for patients about breast cancer; MedlinePlus also provides links to many other breast cancer resources (in English and Spanish)
The UK charities Cancerbackup (now merged with MacMillan Cancer Support) and Cancer Research UK also provide detailed information about breast cancer
PMCID: PMC2673042  PMID: 19536326
14.  Altered expression of estrogen receptor-α variant messenger RNAs between adjacent normal breast and breast tumor tissues 
Breast Cancer Research  1999;2(1):64-72.
Using semiquantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction assays, we investigated the expression of variant messenger RNAs relative to wild-type estrogen receptor (ER)-α messenger RNA in normal breast tissues and their adjacent matched breast tumor tissues. Higher ER variant truncated after sequences encoding exon 2 of the wild-type ER-α (ERC4) messenger RNA and a lower exon 3 deleted ER-α variant (ERD3) messenger RNA relative expression in the tumor compartment were observed in the ER-positive/PR-positive and the ER-positive subsets, respectively. A significantly higher relative expression of exon 5 deleted ER-α varient (ERD5) messenger RNA was observed in tumor components overall. These data demonstrate that changes in the relative expression of ER-α variant messenger RNAs occur between adjacent normal and neoplastic breast tissues. We suggest that these changes might be involved in the mechanisms that underlie breast tumorigenesis.
Estrogen receptor (ER)-α and ER-β are believed to mediate the action of estradiol in target tissues. Several ER-α and ER-β variant messenger RNAs have been identified in both normal and neoplastic human tissues. Most of these variants contain a deletion of one or more exons of the wild-type (WT) ER messenger RNAs. The putative proteins that are encoded by these variant messenger RNAs would therefore be missing some functional domains of the WT receptors, and might interfere with WT-ER signaling pathways. The detection of ER-α variants in both normal and neoplastic human breast tissues raised the question of their possible role in breast tumorigenesis.
We have previously reported an increased relative expression of exon 5 deleted ER-α variant (ERD5) messenger RNA and of another ER-α variant truncated of all sequences following the exon 2 of the WT ER-α (ERC4) messenger RNA in breast tumor samples versus independent normal breast tissues. In contrast, a decreased relative expression of exon 3 deleted ER-α variant (ERD3) messenger RNA in tumor tissues and cancer cell lines versus independent normal reduction mammoplasty samples has recently been reported. These data were obtained in tissues from different individuals and possible interindividual differences cannot be excluded.
The goal of this study was to investigate the expressions of ERC4, ERD5 and ERD3 variant messenger RNAs in normal breast tissues and their matched adjacent primary breast tumor tissues.
Materials and methods:
Eighteen cases were selected from the Manitoba Breast Tumor Bank, which had well separated and histopathologically characterized normal and adjacent neoplastic components. All tumors were classified as primary invasive ductal carcinomas. Six tumors were ER-negative/progesterone receptor (PR)-negative, nine were ER-positive/PR-positive, two were ER-positive/PR-negative, and one was ER-negative/PR-positive, as measured by ligand-binding assay. For each specimen, total RNA was extracted from frozen normal and tumor tissue sections and was reverse transcribed. The expressions of ERC4, ERD3 and ERD5 messenger RNAs relative to WT ER-α messenger RNA were investigated by previously validated semiquantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays performed using three different sets of primers.
As shown Figure 1a, two PCR products were obtained that corresponded to WT ER and ERC4 messenger RNAs. For each case, the mean of the ratios obtained in at least three independent PCR experiments is shown for both normal and tumor compartments (Fig 1b). A statistically higher ERC4 messenger RNA relative expression was found in the neoplastic components of ER-positive/PR-positive tumors, as compared with matched adjacent normal tissues (n = 9; P = 0.019, Wilcoxon signed-rank test).
Two PCR products were obtained that corresponded to WT ER and ERD3 messenger RNAs (Fig 2a). A significantly higher expression of ERD3 messenger RNA was observed in the normal compared with the adjacent neoplastic components of ER-positive subset (n =8; P =0.023, Wilcoxon signed-rank test; Fig 2b).
Two PCR products were obtained that corresponded to WT ER and ERD5 complementary DNAs (Fig 3a). As shown in Figure 3b, a statistically significant higher relative expression of ERD5 messenger RNA was observed in tumor components when this expression was measurable in both normal and adjacent tumor tissues (n =15; P =0.035, Wilcoxon signed-rank test).
A statistically significant higher ERC4 messenger RNA expression was found in ER-positive/PR-positive tumors as compared with matched normal breast tissues. ERC4 variant messenger RNA has previously been demonstrated to be more highly expressed in ER-positive tumors that showed poor as opposed to tumors that showed good prognostic characteristics. Interestingly, we also have reported similar levels of expression of ERC4 messenger RNA in primary breast tumors and their concurrent axillary lymph node metastases. Taken together, these data suggest that the putative role of the ERC4 variant might be important at different phases of breast tumorigenesis and tumor progression; alteration of ERC4 messenger RNA expression and resulting modifications in ER signaling pathway probably occur before breast cancer cells acquire the ability to metastasize. Transient expression assays revealed that the protein encoded by ERC4 messenger RNA was unable to activate the transcription of an estrogen-responsive element-reporter gene or to modulate the wild-type ER protein activity. The biologic significance of the changes observed in ERC4 messenger RNA expression during breast tumorigenesis remains to be determined.
A higher relative expression of ERD3 messenger RNA in the normal breast tissue components compared with adjacent neoplastic tissue was found in the ER-positive subgroup. These data are in agreement with the recently published report of Erenburg et al, who showed a decreased relative expression of ERD3 messenger RNA in neoplastic breast tissues compared with independent reduction mammoplasty and breast tumor. Transfection experiments showed that the activation of the transcription of the pS2 gene by estrogen was drastically reduced in the presence of increased ERD3 expression. The authors hypothesized that the reduction in ERD3 expression could be a prerequisite for breast carcinogenesis to proceed.
We observed a significantly higher relative expression of ERD5 messenger RNA in breast tumor components compared with matched adjacent normal breast tissue. These data confirm our previous observations performed on unmatched normal and neoplastic human breast tissues. Upregulated expression of this variant has already been reported in ER-negative/PR-positive tumors, as compared with ER-positive/PR-positive tumors, suggesting a possible correlation between ERD5 messenger RNA expression and breast tumor progression. Even though it has been suggested that ERD5 could be related to the acquisition of insensitivity to antiestrogen treatment (ie tamoxifen), accumulating data refute a general role for ERD5 in hormone-resistant tumors. Only ER-positive pS2-positive tamoxifen-resistant tumors have been shown to express significantly higher levels of ERD5 messenger RNA, as compared with control tumors. Taken together, these data suggest that the exact biologic significance of ERD5 variant expression during breast tumorigenesis and breast cancer progression, if any, remains unclear.
In conclusion, we have shown that the relative expressions of ERC4 and ERD5 variant messenger RNAs were increased in human breast tumor tissue, as compared with normal adjacent tissue, whereas the expression of ERD3 variant messenger RNA was decreased in breast tumor tissues. These results suggest that the expressions of several ER-α variant messenger RNAs are deregulated during human breast tumorigenesis. Further studies are needed to determine whether these changes are transposed at the protein level. Furthermore, the putative role of ER-α variants in the mechanisms that underlie breast tumorigenesis remains to be determined.
PMCID: PMC13912  PMID: 11400682
breast cancer; estrogen receptor; tumorigenesis; variant messenger RNA
15.  Sex Hormone Receptor Repertoire in Breast Cancer 
Classification of breast cancer as endocrine sensitive, hormone dependent, or estrogen receptor (ER) positive refers singularly to ERα. One of the oldest recognized tumor targets, disruption of ERα-mediated signaling, is believed to be the mechanistic mode of action for all hormonal interventions used in treating this disease. Whereas ERα is widely accepted as the single most important predictive factor (for response to endocrine therapy), the presence of the receptor in tumor cells is also of prognostic value. Even though the clinical relevance of the two other sex hormone receptors, namely, ERβ and the androgen receptor remains unclear, two discordant phenomena observed in hormone-dependent breast cancers could be causally related to ERβ-mediated effects and androgenic actions. Nonetheless, our understanding of regulatory molecules and resistance mechanisms remains incomplete, further compromising our ability to develop novel therapeutic strategies that could improve disease outcomes. This review focuses on the receptor-mediated actions of the sex hormones in breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3845405  PMID: 24324894
16.  MELK is an oncogenic kinase essential for mitotic progression in basal-like breast cancer cells 
eLife  2014;3:e01763.
Despite marked advances in breast cancer therapy, basal-like breast cancer (BBC), an aggressive subtype of breast cancer usually lacking estrogen and progesterone receptors, remains difficult to treat. In this study, we report the identification of MELK as a novel oncogenic kinase from an in vivo tumorigenesis screen using a kinome-wide open reading frames (ORFs) library. Analysis of clinical data reveals a high level of MELK overexpression in BBC, a feature that is largely dependent on FoxM1, a master mitotic transcription factor that is also found to be highly overexpressed in BBC. Ablation of MELK selectively impairs proliferation of basal-like, but not luminal breast cancer cells both in vitro and in vivo. Mechanistically, depletion of MELK in BBC cells induces caspase-dependent cell death, preceded by defective mitosis. Finally, we find that Melk is not required for mouse development and physiology. Together, these data indicate that MELK is a normally non-essential kinase, but is critical for BBC and thus represents a promising selective therapeutic target for the most aggressive subtype of breast cancer.
eLife digest
Not all cancers are the same. There are, for example, at least five types of breast cancer. Different types of cancer can have different mutations and express different genes that determine how aggressively the tumors grow and how well they respond to different therapies. By exploiting these differences, scientists have developed therapies that target specific tumor types, and these targeted therapies have proven useful against most breast cancers.
One type of breast cancer, however, has proven hard to treat. Basal-like breast cancer grows rapidly and there are few treatment options for women with this type of cancer. One reason for this is that, unlike other forms of breast cancer, these cancers do not have the hormone receptors that are the targets of existing therapies.
Enzymes called kinases are promising alternate targets, and many kinase-inhibiting drugs can kill tumor cells in mice. Nevertheless, it has proven difficult to develop kinase inhibitors that are safe for use in humans because these drugs can also kill normal cells. To avoid this side effect, cancer researchers have been searching for a kinase that is active in cancer cells but not in normal cells.
Wang et al. tested a large collection of kinases and found that one called MELK caused tumors to grow in the mammary glands of mice. Further examination of tumor samples collected from hundreds of women in previous clinical studies revealed that MELK expression was increased in basal-like breast cancers and other breast cancer tumors that lack the usual hormone receptor targets.
When Wang et al. treated tumor cells and mice with tumors with a chemical that stops MELK working, basal-like breast cancer cells stopped multiplying and died. On the other hand, tumor cells that had the usual hormone receptors continued to multiply. To see if MELK is important in healthy mice, Wang et al. genetically engineered mice to delete the MELK gene and found that these mutant mice appear normal. The next challenge will be to test if drugs that inhibit MELK can kill basal-like breast cancer cells without having the side effect of harming normal cells.
PMCID: PMC4059381  PMID: 24844244
MELK; basal-like breast cancer; triple-negative breast cancer; FoxM1; targeted therapy; human; mouse
17.  A gene transcription signature associated with hormone independence in a subset of both breast and prostate cancers 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:199.
The development of resistance to hormone therapy in both breast and prostate cancers is attributed to tens of thousands of patient deaths every year.
From analyses of global gene expression profile data, a nonrandom amount of overlap was observed between the set of genes associated with estrogen receptor negative (ER-), hormone independent breast cancer and the set of genes associated with androgen independent (AI) prostate cancer. A set of 81 genes was identified that were differentially expressed between ER- and ER+ clinical breast tumors and breast cancer cell lines and that showed concordant expression in AI versus AS (androgen sensitive) prostate cell lines. This common gene signature of hormone independence was used to identify a subset of clinically localized primary prostate tumors that shared extensive similarities in gene transcription with both ER- breast and AI prostate cell lines and that tended to show concurrent deactivation of the androgen signaling pathway. Both ER- breast and AI prostate cell lines were significantly enriched for transcriptional targets of signaling via epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR).
This study indicates that the growth- and survival-promoting functions of hormone receptors can be bypassed in a subset of both breast and prostate cancers by the same growth factor signaling pathways, which holds implications for the use of targeted therapy regimens.
PMCID: PMC1914359  PMID: 17598908
18.  Role of the androgen receptor in breast cancer and preclinical analysis of enzalutamide 
The androgen receptor (AR) is widely expressed in breast cancers and has been proposed as a therapeutic target in estrogen receptor alpha (ER) negative breast cancers that retain AR. However, controversy exists regarding the role of AR, particularly in ER + tumors. Enzalutamide, an AR inhibitor that impairs nuclear localization of AR, was used to elucidate the role of AR in preclinical models of ER positive and negative breast cancer.
We examined nuclear AR to ER protein ratios in primary breast cancers in relation to response to endocrine therapy. The effects of AR inhibition with enzalutamide were examined in vitro and in preclinical models of ER positive and negative breast cancer that express AR.
In a cohort of 192 women with ER + breast cancers, a high ratio of AR:ER (≥2.0) indicated an over four fold increased risk for failure while on tamoxifen (HR = 4.43). The AR:ER ratio had an independent effect on risk for failure above ER % staining alone. AR:ER ratio is also an independent predictor of disease-free survival (HR = 4.04, 95% CI: 1.68, 9.69; p = 0.002) and disease specific survival (HR = 2.75, 95% CI: 1.11, 6.86; p = 0.03). Both enzalutamide and bicalutamide inhibited 5-alpha-dihydrotestosterone (DHT)-mediated proliferation of breast cancer lines in vitro; however, enzalutamide uniquely inhibited estradiol (E2)-mediated proliferation of ER+/AR + breast cancer cells. In MCF7 xenografts (ER+/AR+) enzalutamide inhibited E2-driven tumor growth as effectively as tamoxifen by decreasing proliferation. Enzalutamide also inhibited DHT- driven tumor growth in both ER positive (MCF7) and negative (MDA-MB-453) xenografts, but did so by increasing apoptosis.
AR to ER ratio may influence breast cancer response to traditional endocrine therapy. Enzalutamide elicits different effects on E2-mediated breast cancer cell proliferation than bicalutamide. This preclinical study supports the initiation of clinical studies evaluating enzalutamide for treatment of AR+ tumors regardless of ER status, since it blocks both androgen- and estrogen- mediated tumor growth.
PMCID: PMC3978822  PMID: 24451109
19.  Androgens and esophageal cancer: What do we know? 
Significant disparities exist between genders for the development and progression of several gastro-intestinal (GI) diseases including cancer. Differences in incidence between men vs women for colon, gastric and hepatocellular cancers suggest a role for steroid sex hormones in regulation of GI carcinogenesis. Involvement of intrinsic gender-linked mechanisms is also possible for esophageal adenocarcinoma as its incidence is disproportionally high among men. However, the cause of the observed gender differences and the potential role of androgens in esophageal carcinogenesis remains unclear, even though the cancer-promoting role of androgen receptors (AR) shown in other cancers such as prostate and bladder suggests this aspect warrants exploration. Several studies have demonstrated expression of ARs in esophageal cancer. However, only one study has suggested a potential link between AR signaling and outcome - poorer prognosis. Two groups have analyzed data from cohorts with prostate cancer and one of these found a decreased incidence of esophageal squamous and adenocarcinoma after androgen deprivation therapy. However, very limited information is available about the effects of androgen and AR-initiated signaling on esophageal cancer cell growth in vitro and in vivo. Possible mechanisms for androgens/AR involvement in the regulation of esophageal cancer growth are considered, and the potential use of AR as a prognostic factor and clinical target is highlighted, although insufficient evidence is available to support clinical trials of novel therapies. As esophageal adenocarcinoma is a gender linked cancer with a large male predominance further studies are warranted to clarify the role of androgens and ARs in shaping intracellular signaling and genomic responses in esophageal cancer.
PMCID: PMC4445092  PMID: 26034350
Esophageal cancer; Androgens; Androgen receptor
20.  The progestational and androgenic properties of medroxyprogesterone acetate: gene regulatory overlap with dihydrotestosterone in breast cancer cells 
Breast Cancer Research  2005;7(6):R1036-R1050.
Medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), the major progestin used for oral contraception and hormone replacement therapy, has been implicated in increased breast cancer risk. Is this risk due to its progestational or androgenic properties? To address this, we assessed the transcriptional effects of MPA as compared with those of progesterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in human breast cancer cells.
A new progesterone receptor-negative, androgen receptor-positive human breast cancer cell line, designated Y-AR, was engineered and characterized. Transcription assays using a synthetic promoter/reporter construct, as well as endogenous gene expression profiling comparing progesterone, MPA and DHT, were performed in cells either lacking or containing progesterone receptor and/or androgen receptor.
In progesterone receptor-positive cells, MPA was found to be an effective progestin through both progesterone receptor isoforms in transient transcription assays. Interestingly, DHT signaled through progesterone receptor type B. Expression profiling of endogenous progesterone receptor-regulated genes comparing progesterone and MPA suggested that although MPA may be a somewhat more potent progestin than progesterone, it is qualitatively similar to progesterone. To address effects of MPA through androgen receptor, expression profiling was performed comparing progesterone, MPA and DHT using Y-AR cells. These studies showed extensive gene regulatory overlap between DHT and MPA through androgen receptor and none with progesterone. Interestingly, there was no difference between pharmacological MPA and physiological MPA, suggesting that high-dose therapeutic MPA may be superfluous.
Our comparison of the gene regulatory profiles of MPA and progesterone suggests that, for physiologic hormone replacement therapy, the actions of MPA do not mimic those of endogenous progesterone alone. Clinically, the complex pharmacology of MPA not only influences its side-effect profile; but it is also possible that the increased breast cancer risk and/or the therapeutic efficacy of MPA in cancer treatment is in part mediated by androgen receptor.
PMCID: PMC1410743  PMID: 16457685
21.  Patient-derived luminal breast cancer xenografts retain hormone receptor heterogeneity and help define unique estrogen-dependent gene signatures 
Breast cancer research and treatment  2012;135(2):10.1007/s10549-012-2164-8.
Bypassing estrogen receptor (ER) signaling during development of endocrine resistance remains the most common cause of disease progression and mortality in breast cancer patients. To date, the majority of molecular research on ER action in breast cancer has occurred in cell line models derived from late stage disease. Here we describe patient-derived ER + luminal breast tumor models for the study of intratumoral hormone and receptor action. Human breast tumor samples obtained from patients post surgery were immediately transplanted into NOD/SCID or NOD/SCID/ILIIrg−/− mice under estrogen supplementation. Five transplantable patient-derived ER + breast cancer xenografts were established, derived from both primary and metastatic cases. These were assessed for estrogen dependency, steroid receptor expression, cancer stem cell content, and endocrine therapy response. Gene expression patterns were determined in select tumors ±estrogen and ±endocrine therapy. Xenografts morphologically resembled the patient tumors of origin, and expressed similar levels of ER (5–99 %), and progesterone and androgen receptors, over multiple passages. Four of the tumor xenografts were estrogen dependent, and tamoxifen or estrogen withdrawal (EWD) treatment abrogated estrogen-dependent growth and/or tumor morphology. Analysis of the ER transcriptome in select tumors revealed notable differences in ER mechanism of action, and downstream activated signaling networks, in addition to identifying a small set of common estrogen-regulated genes. Treatment of a na¨ıve tumor with tamoxifen or EWD showed similar phenotypic responses, but relatively few similarities in estrogen-dependent transcription, and affected signaling pathways. Several core estrogen centric genes were shared with traditional cell line models. However, novel tumor-specific estrogen-regulated potential target genes, such as cancer/testis antigen 45, were uncovered. These results evoke the importance of mapping both conserved and tumor-unique ER programs in breast cancers. Furthermore, they underscore the importance of primary xenografts for improved understanding of ER+ breast cancer heterogeneity and development of personalized therapies.
PMCID: PMC3818141  PMID: 22821401
Breast cancer; Estrogen receptors; Progesterone receptors; Xenografts; Tamoxifen; Gene regulation; Cancer/testis antigens
22.  Risk Prediction for Breast, Endometrial, and Ovarian Cancer in White Women Aged 50 y or Older: Derivation and Validation from Population-Based Cohort Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001492.
Ruth Pfeiffer and colleagues describe models to calculate absolute risks for breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers for white, non-Hispanic women over 50 years old using easily obtainable risk factors.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers share some hormonal and epidemiologic risk factors. While several models predict absolute risk of breast cancer, there are few models for ovarian cancer in the general population, and none for endometrial cancer.
Methods and Findings
Using data on white, non-Hispanic women aged 50+ y from two large population-based cohorts (the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial [PLCO] and the National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study [NIH-AARP]), we estimated relative and attributable risks and combined them with age-specific US-population incidence and competing mortality rates. All models included parity. The breast cancer model additionally included estrogen and progestin menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) use, other MHT use, age at first live birth, menopausal status, age at menopause, family history of breast or ovarian cancer, benign breast disease/biopsies, alcohol consumption, and body mass index (BMI); the endometrial model included menopausal status, age at menopause, BMI, smoking, oral contraceptive use, MHT use, and an interaction term between BMI and MHT use; the ovarian model included oral contraceptive use, MHT use, and family history or breast or ovarian cancer. In independent validation data (Nurses' Health Study cohort) the breast and ovarian cancer models were well calibrated; expected to observed cancer ratios were 1.00 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.96–1.04) for breast cancer and 1.08 (95% CI: 0.97–1.19) for ovarian cancer. The number of endometrial cancers was significantly overestimated, expected/observed = 1.20 (95% CI: 1.11–1.29). The areas under the receiver operating characteristic curves (AUCs; discriminatory power) were 0.58 (95% CI: 0.57–0.59), 0.59 (95% CI: 0.56–0.63), and 0.68 (95% CI: 0.66–0.70) for the breast, ovarian, and endometrial models, respectively.
These models predict absolute risks for breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers from easily obtainable risk factors and may assist in clinical decision-making. Limitations are the modest discriminatory ability of the breast and ovarian models and that these models may not generalize to women of other races.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
In 2008, just three types of cancer accounted for 10% of global cancer-related deaths. That year, about 460,000 women died from breast cancer (the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women and the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death). Another 140,000 women died from ovarian cancer, and 74,000 died from endometrial (womb) cancer (the 14th and 20th most common causes of cancer-related death, respectively). Although these three cancers originate in different tissues, they nevertheless share many risk factors. For example, current age, age at menarche (first period), and parity (the number of children a woman has had) are all strongly associated with breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer risk. Because these cancers share many hormonal and epidemiological risk factors, a woman with a high breast cancer risk is also likely to have an above-average risk of developing ovarian or endometrial cancer.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several statistical models (for example, the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool) have been developed that estimate a woman's absolute risk (probability) of developing breast cancer over the next few years or over her lifetime. Absolute risk prediction models are useful in the design of cancer prevention trials and can also help women make informed decisions about cancer prevention and treatment options. For example, a woman at high risk of breast cancer might decide to take tamoxifen for breast cancer prevention, but ideally she needs to know her absolute endometrial cancer risk before doing so because tamoxifen increases the risk of this cancer. Similarly, knowledge of her ovarian cancer risk might influence a woman's decision regarding prophylactic removal of her ovaries to reduce her breast cancer risk. There are few absolute risk prediction models for ovarian cancer, and none for endometrial cancer, so here the researchers develop models to predict the risk of these cancers and of breast cancer.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Absolute risk prediction models are constructed by combining estimates for risk factors from cohorts with population-based incidence rates from cancer registries. Models are validated in an independent cohort by testing their ability to identify people with the disease in an independent cohort and their ability to predict the observed numbers of incident cases. The researchers used data on white, non-Hispanic women aged 50 years or older that were collected during two large prospective US cohort studies of cancer screening and of diet and health, and US cancer incidence and mortality rates provided by the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program to build their models. The models all included parity as a risk factor, as well as other factors. The model for endometrial cancer, for example, also included menopausal status, age at menopause, body mass index (an indicator of the amount of body fat), oral contraceptive use, menopausal hormone therapy use, and an interaction term between menopausal hormone therapy use and body mass index. Individual women's risk for endometrial cancer calculated using this model ranged from 1.22% to 17.8% over the next 20 years depending on their exposure to various risk factors. Validation of the models using data from the US Nurses' Health Study indicated that the endometrial cancer model overestimated the risk of endometrial cancer but that the breast and ovarian cancer models were well calibrated—the predicted and observed risks for these cancers in the validation cohort agreed closely. Finally, the discriminatory power of the models (a measure of how well a model separates people who have a disease from people who do not have the disease) was modest for the breast and ovarian cancer models but somewhat better for the endometrial cancer model.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer can all be predicted using information on known risk factors for these cancers that is easily obtainable. Because these models were constructed and validated using data from white, non-Hispanic women aged 50 years or older, they may not accurately predict absolute risk for these cancers for women of other races or ethnicities. Moreover, the modest discriminatory power of the breast and ovarian cancer models means they cannot be used to decide which women should be routinely screened for these cancers. Importantly, however, these well-calibrated models should provide realistic information about an individual's risk of developing breast, ovarian, or endometrial cancer that can be used in clinical decision-making and that may assist in the identification of potential participants for research studies.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Lars Holmberg and Andrew Vickers
The US National Cancer Institute provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information about breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer;
Information on the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, and on the prospective cohort study of screening and the diet and health study that provided the data used to build the models is also available on the NCI site
Cancer Research UK, a not-for-profit organization, provides information about cancer, including detailed information on breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer; the not-for-profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer and ovarian cancer
PMCID: PMC3728034  PMID: 23935463
23.  Phase II Trial of Bicalutamide in Patients with Androgen Receptor–Positive, Estrogen Receptor–Negative Metastatic Breast Cancer 
Patients with hormone receptor–negative breast cancer generally do not benefit from endocrine-targeted therapies. However, a subset with androgen receptor (AR) expression is predicted to respond to antiandrogen therapies. This phase II study explored bicalutamide in AR-positive, estrogen receptor (ER), and progesterone receptor (PgR)-negative metastatic breast cancer.
Experimental Design
Tumors from patients with ER/PgR-negative advanced breast cancer were tested centrally for AR [immunohistochemistry (IHC) > 10% nuclear staining considered positive]. If either the primary or a metastatic site was positive, patients were eligible to receive the AR antagonist bicalutamide at a dose of 150 mg daily. Clinical benefit rate (CBR), the primary endpoint, was defined as the total number of patients who show a complete response (CR), partial response (PR), or stable disease (SD) > 6 months; secondary endpoints included progression-free survival (PFS) and toxicity. Correlative studies included measurement of circulating endocrine markers and IHC surrogates for basal-like breast cancer.
Of 424 patients with ER/PgR-negative breast cancer, 12% tested AR-positive. The 6-month CBR was19%[95% confidence interval (CI), 7%–39%]for bicalutamide. The median PFS was 12 weeks (95% CI, 11–22 weeks). Bicalutamide was well-tolerated with no grade 4/5 treatment-related adverse events observed.
AR was expressed in 12% of patients with ER/PgR-negative breast cancer screened for this trial. The CBR of 19% observed with bicalutamide shows proof of principle for the efficacy of minimally toxic androgen blockade in a select group of patients with ER/PgR-negative, AR-positive breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC4086643  PMID: 23965901
24.  The Androgen Metabolite 5α-androstane-3β,17β-diol (3βAdiol) Induces Breast Cancer Growth via Estrogen Receptor: Implications for Aromatase Inhibitor Resistance 
The aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are used to treat estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast tumors in post-menopausal women, and function by blocking the conversion of adrenal androgens to estrogens by the enzyme CYP19 aromatase. Breast cancer patients receiving AI therapy have circulating estrogen levels below the level of detection; however, androgen concentrations remain unchanged. We were interested in studying the effects of androgens on breast cancer cell proliferation under profound estrogen-deprived conditions. Using in vitro models of estrogen-dependent breast cancer cell growth we show that the androgens testosterone and 5α-dihydrotestosterone induce the growth of MCF-7, T47D and BT-474 cells in the absence of estrogen. Furthermore, we demonstrate that under profound estrogen-deprived conditions these breast cancer cells up-regulate steroidogenic enzymes that can metabolize androgens to estrogens. Lastly, we found that the downstream metabolite of 5α-dihydrotestosterone, 5α-androstane-3β,17β-diol (3βAdiol), is estrogenic in breast cancer cells, and induces growth and ER-signaling via activation of ERα. In conclusion, our results show that breast cancer cells deprived of estrogen up-regulate steroidogenic enzymes and metabolize androgens to estrogen-like steroids. The generation of estrogen-like steroids represents a potential mechanism of resistance to aromatase inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC2728015  PMID: 18521740
breast cancer; 3βAdiol; estrogen receptor
25.  Steroidogenic Enzyme Inhibitors and Hormone Dependent Cancer 
Urologic oncology  2009;27(1):53-63.
To improve treatment for patients with breast and prostate cancer.
A number of novel inhibitors of steroidogenic enzymes have been developed. Their biological effects have been evaluated in a variety of preclinical models. Aromatase (estrogen synthetase) inhibitors have now been extensively tested in clinical trials in breast cancer patients. Inhibitors of 17α-hydroxylase/lyase have also been studied in preclinical models and are beginning trials in prostate cancer patients.
The enzyme aromatase (CYP19) has proved to be an important therapeutic target. Inhibitors of aromatase (AIs) as are showing greater benefit than antiestrogens in the treatment of breast cancer. Although effective in other conditions in both women and men, AIs have not been useful in benign prostatic hypertrophy or prostate cancer. However inhibitors of 17αhydroxylase/lyase (CYP17) to block synthesis of androgens may be effective for prostate cancer. Recent clinical trials with abiraterone and preclinical studies with other novel CYP17 inhibitors which also interact with the androgen receptor and cause its down regulation could provide a new approach for treating this disease.
In further studies we optimized treatment with aromatase inhibitors and antiestrogens utilizing an intratumoral aromatase xenograft model. AIs were more effective and sustained growth inhibition longer than antiestrogens. However, inevitably tumors eventually began to grow despite continued treatment. Analysis of breast tumors from mice treated with letrozole revealed upregulation of HER-2 and MAPKinase signaling proteins and downregulation of the estrogen receptor. Our studies showed that tumors adapt to AI treatment by activating alternate signaling pathways, thus enable them to proliferate in absence of estrogen. When mice bearing resistant tumors were treated with trastuzumab the anti-HER-2 antibody (Herceptin), HER-2 was decreased in the tumor but the estrogen receptor and aromatase were restored. Tumor growth was significantly inhibited by treatment with trastuzumab in addition to letrozole.
Aromatase inhibitors are proving to be an effective new class of agents for the treatment and breast cancer. Compounds inhibiting 17αhydroxylase/lyase have potential for the treatment of prostate cancer. Our results suggest that strategies to overcome resistance to these types of agents can restore sensitivity of the tumors to hormone therapy.
PMCID: PMC3090255  PMID: 19111799
breast cancer; xenograft models; letrozole; anastrozole; Her2; trastuzumab

Results 1-25 (1137877)