We tested the hypothesis that BRCA1 may play a role in the regulation of ovarian tumor cell death as well as the inhibition of ovarian cell proliferation. Introduction of BRCA1 antisense retroviral constructs into BG-1 estrogen-dependent ovarian adenocarcinoma cells resulted in reduced BRCA1 expression. BRCA1 antisense pooled populations and derived subclones were able to proliferate in monolayer culture without estrogen, whereas control cells began to die after 10 days of estrogen deprivation. In addition, both populations and subclones of BRCA1 antisense infected cells demonstrated a growth advantage in monolayer culture in the presence of estrogen and were able to proliferate in monolayer culture without estrogen, while control cells did not. Furthermore, clonal studies demonstrated that reduced levels of BRCA1 protein correlated with growth in soft agar and greater tumor formation in nude mice in the absence of estrogen. These data suggest that reduction of BRCA1 protein in BG-1 ovarian adenocarcinoma cells may have an effect on cell survival during estrogen deprivation both in vitro and in vivo.
Germline mutations in the breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1, which is located on chromosome 17q21, are associated with a predisposition to the development of cancer in these organs [1,2]. No mutations in the BRCA1 gene have been detected in sporadic breast cancer cases, but mutations have been detected in sporadic cases of ovarian cancer [3,4]. Although there is debate regarding the level of cancer risk associated with mutations in BRCA1 and the significance of the lack of mutations in sporadic tumors, it is possible that alterations in the function of BRCA1 may occur by mechanisms other than mutation, leading to an underestimation of risk when it is calculated solely on the basis of mutational analysis. Such alterations cannot be identified until the function and regulation of BRCA1 are better understood.
The BRCA1 gene encodes a 220-kDa nuclear phosphoprotein that is regulated in response to DNA damaging agents [5,6,7] and in response to estrogen-induced growth [8,9,10,11]. Germline mutations that cause breast and ovarian cancer predisposition frequently result in truncated and presumably inactive BRCA1 protein .
BG-1 cells were derived from a patient with stage III, poorly differentiated ovarian adenocarcinoma . This cell line, which expresses wild-type BRCA1, is estrogen responsive and withdrawal of estrogen results in eventual cell death. Previous studies suggest that BRCA1 is stimulated as a result of estrogen treatment [8,9,10,11], and also that BRCA1 may be involved in the cell death process . Therefore, we examined the effect of reduction of BRCA1 levels in BG-1 cells on the cellular response to hormone depletion as well as estrogen stimulation. The results suggest that reduced levels of BRCA1 correlates with a survival advantage when BG-1 cells are placed under growth-restrictive and hormone-depleted conditions. In optimum growth conditions, significantly reduced levels of BRCA1 correlates with enhanced growth both in vitro and in vivo.
To test the hypothesis that BRCA1 may play a role in the regulation of ovarian tumor cell death as well as in the inhibition of ovarian cell proliferation.
Materials and methods:
The estrogen receptor-positive, BG-1 cell line , which contains an abundant amount of estrogen receptors (600 fmoles/100 μg DNA), was infected using a pLXSN retroviral vector (provided by AD Miller) containing an inverted partial human cDNA 900-base-pair sequence of BRCA1 (from nucleotide 121 in exon 1 to nucleotide 1025 in exon 11, accession #U14680). After 2 weeks of selection in 800 μg/ml of geneticin-G418 (Gibco/Life Technologies, Gaithersburg, MD, USA), BG-1 G418-resistant colonies were pooled, or individually isolated, and assayed for growth in the presence or absence of supplemented estrogen. Virally infected pooled populations of BG-1 cells were examined for BRCA1 message levels by ribonuclease protection assay (Fig. 1a). BRCA1 ribonuclease protection probe was made using an in vitro transcription kit (Ambion, Inc, Austin, TX, USA) as previously described  and derived clones were tested for protein levels by Western blot analysis using an anti-BRCA1 (Oncogene Research, Ab-1, Cambridge, MA, USA) antibody. Growth curve analysis of Infected populations and were pretreated for 5 days in phenol red-free, Dulbecco's modified eagle medium (DMEM)/F-12 medium (Gibco/Life Technologies) supplemented with 10% charcoal/dextran treated serum (Hyclone, Logan, UT, USA), then plated at 2.5 × 106 cells per 100mm dish in triplicate in the absence or presence of estrogen (10-8 mol/l; 17β-Estradiol; 1,3,5 (10) - Estratriene 3,17β-diol; Sigma, St Louis, MO, USA). For soft agar assay, clones were plated into 10 60-mm dishes at 1 × 105 cells/dish containing 0.3% bactopeptone agar with or without added estrogen (10-8 mol/l) in phenol red-free medium with 10% stripped serum in order to test for anchorage independent growth. BG-1 infected clones were tested for tumorigenicity by injection of cells (106 cells in 0.1cm2 50% matrigel; Collaborative Biomedical Products, Bedford, MA, USA) into subcutaneous sites in 6-week-old athymic Ncr-nude mice (NCI Animal Program, Bethesda, MD, USA) that were ovariectomized at approximately 4 weeks of age. Half of the ovariectomized mice received an implanted 0.18mg estrogen 60-day pellet (Innovative Research of America, Sarasota, FL, USA).
Antisense technology was effective in decreasing both RNA and protein levels of BRCA1 in the BG-1 human ovarian adenocarcinoma cells. BRCA1 antisense-infected populations contained significantly less BRCA1 message than control LXSN-infected pools and selected clones contained varying reduced levels of BRCA1 protein compared with control clones (Figs 1a and 1b).
Three independent BRCA1 antisense-infected cultures demonstrated a resistance to cell death induced by withdrawal from estrogen over a 6- to 20-day period (Fig. 2a). The BRCA1 antisense population also exhibited a threefold to sixfold increase in cell growth compared with control cells in the presence of estrogen treatment. BG-1 BRCA1 antisense clones demonstrated a similar response to pooled population studies, enhanced growth with estrogen, and failure to die upon estrogen depletion (Fig. 2b).
The BRCA1 antisense clones were further examined for other associated tumorigenic properties. All of the antisense clones were able to form colonies in soft agar (2-23 colonies per 104 cells plated; data not shown), whereas control clones were deficient in their ability to form colonies (0-0.8 colonies per 104 cells plated). Table 1 shows, in the presence of estrogen, the clone with the lowest levels of BRCA1 (AS-4) produced significantly more colonies (133 ± 17.9 colonies per 104 cells plated) than the control clone (NEO; 6 ± 3.1 colonies per 104 cells plated). Clones AS-4 and NEO were also injected with matrigel subcutaneously into ovariectomized athymic mice. Almost twice as many sites were positive for the AS-4 clone (14 out of 14) as for the NEO clone (eight out of 14) 42 days after injection. In addition, BRCA1 antisense tumors averaged twice the size of control tumors. The BRCA1 reduced cells also formed tumors with half the latency of control cells in the presence of implanted estrogen (11 days versus 21 days until tumor formation).
The present studies show that reduction in BRCA1 levels, using an antisense retroviral vector in the estrogen dependent BG-1 ovarian carcinoma cell line, contributes to confirmation of the hypothesis that BRCA1 plays a pivotal role in the balance between cell death and cell proliferation. BRCA1 RNA and protein levels were successfully reduced in populations and isolated clones of antisense infected BG-1 cells. Decreased BRCA1 levels rescued the BG-1 cells from growth arrest or cell death in adverse growth conditions in monolayer or soft agar conditions. Furthermore, a BRCA1 antisense clone that had significantly low levels of BRCA1 protein was able to form twice as many tumors in ovariectomized nude mice with a decreased latency compared with a control clone.
In multicellular mammalian organisms, a balance between cell proliferation and cell death is extremely important for the maintenance of normal healthy tissues. In support of this hypothesis, it has been shown that p53 and BRCA1 can form stable complexes, and can coactivate p21 and bax genes, which may lead to the activation of the apoptosis pathway . The present data, which show that cells with a reduction of BRCA1 have a survival advantage in conditions where control cells fail to thrive, also supports this hypothesis. BRCA1 levels appear to affect the ability of cells to arrest growth or die in the absence of estrogenic growth-inducing conditions. Although mutations in this gene are uncommon in sporadic breast and ovarian tumors, BRCA1 expression levels and protein levels have been found to be reduced in sporadic human breast carcinomas [16,17,18,19]. In addition it has been demonstrated  that hormone-dependent tumors such as breast and ovarian cancers have a decreased ability to undergo apoptosis. Other mechanisms involving gene regulation may allow for decreased expression of BRCA1 in sporadic tumors. The response of BRCA1 mRNA and protein levels to mitogens and hormones in vitro suggests that BRCA1 may play a role in regulation of cell growth or maintenance . The BRCA1 gene product may be involved in the regulation of hormone response pathways, and the present results demonstrate that loss of BRCA1 may result in loss of inhibitory control of these mitogenic pathways. These studies show that reduction in BRCA1 mRNA and protein can result in increased proliferation of BG-1 ovarian cancer cells in both in vitro and in vivo conditions, suggesting that BRCA1 may normally be acting as a growth inhibitor. Low BRCA1 levels found in sporadic cancers may be an important factor in tumorigenesis. The present data suggest that diminished levels of BRCA1 not only accelerate proliferation in the BG-1 ovarian carcinoma cell line, but also appear to promote tumorigenesis. We propose that the loss or reduction of BRCA1 may predispose a cell population to neoplastic transformation by altering the balance between cell death and proliferation/survival, rendering it more sensitive to secondary genetic changes.