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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2002 Aug;81(4-5):333-41.

Molecular changes associated with the acquisition of oestrogen hypersensitivity in MCF-7 breast cancer cells on long-term oestrogen deprivation.

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  • 1Department of Academic Biochemistry, Royal Marsden Hospital, Fulham Road, London SW3 6JJ, UK.


The growth dependence of many breast cancers on oestrogen has been exploited therapeutically by oestrogen deprivation, but almost all patients eventually develop resistance largely by unknown mechanisms. Wild-type (WT) MCF-7 cells were cultured in oestrogen-deficient medium for 90 weeks in order to establish a long-term oestrogen-deprived MCF-7 (LTED) which eventually became independent of exogenous oestrogen for growth. After 15 weeks of quiescence (LTED-Q), basal growth rate increased in parallel with increasing oestrogen sensitivity. While 10(-9)M oestradiol (E2) maximally stimulated WT growth, the hypersensitive LTED (LTED-H) were maximally growth stimulated by 10(-13)M E2. By week 50, hypersensitivity was apparently lost and the cells became oestrogen independent (LTED-I), although the pure antioestrogen ICI182780 still inhibited cell growth and reversed the inhibitory effect of 10(-9)M E2 at 10(-12) to 10(-7)M. Tamoxifen (10(-7) to 10(-6)M) had a partial agonist effect on WT, but had no stimulatory effect on LTED. Whilst LTED cells have a low progesterone receptor (PgR) expression in all phases, oestrogen receptor (ER) a expression was, on average, elevated five- and seven-fold in LTED-H and LTED-I, respectively, and serine118 was phosphorylated. ERbeta expression was up-regulated and the levels of insulin receptor substrate 1 (IRS-1) remained low throughout all phases. The levels of RIP140mRNA appeared to decrease to approximately 50% of the WT message in LTED-Q and remained constant into the hypersensitive phase. No significant changes were observed in the expression of SUG-1, TIF-1 and SMRT in LTED. The overall changes in nuclear receptor interacting proteins do not appear to be involved in the hypersensitivity. Thus, the resistance of these human breast cancer cells to oestrogen-deprivation appears to be due to acquired hypersensitivity which may be explained in part by increased levels of and phosphorylated ERalpha.

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