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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2006 Apr;99(1):19-32. Epub 2006 Mar 14.

Changes in oestrogen receptor-alpha and -beta during progression to acquired resistance to tamoxifen and fulvestrant (Faslodex, ICI 182,780) in MCF7 human breast cancer cells.

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  • 1School of Biological Sciences, The University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AJ, UK.


Cell culture models of antioestrogen resistance often involve applying selective pressures of oestrogen deprivation simultaneously with addition of tamoxifen or fulvestrant (Faslodex, ICI 182,780) which makes it difficult to distinguish events in development of antioestrogen resistance from those in loss of response to oestrogen or other components. We describe here time courses of loss of antioestrogen response using either oestrogen-maintained or oestrogen-deprived MCF7 cells in which the only alteration to the culture medium was addition of 10(-6) M tamoxifen or 10(-7) M fulvestrant. In both oestrogen-maintained and oestrogen-deprived models, loss of growth response to tamoxifen was not associated with loss of response to fulvestrant. However, loss of growth response to fulvestrant was associated in both models with concomitant loss of growth response to tamoxifen. Measurement of oestrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) and oestrogen receptor beta (ERbeta) mRNA by real-time RT-PCR together with ERalpha and ERbeta protein by Western immunoblotting revealed substantial changes to ERalpha levels but very little alteration to ERbeta levels following development of antioestrogen resistance. In oestrogen-maintained cells, tamoxifen resistance was associated with raised levels of ERalpha mRNA/protein. However by contrast, in oestrogen-deprived MCF7 cells, where oestrogen deprivation alone had already resulted in increased levels of ERalpha mRNA/protein, long-term tamoxifen exposure now reduced ERalpha levels. Whilst long-term exposure to fulvestrant reduced ERalpha mRNA/protein levels in the oestrogen-maintained cells to a level barely detectable by Western immunoblotting and non-functional in inducing gene expression (ERE-LUC reporter or pS2), in oestrogen-deprived cells the reduction was much less substantial and these cells retained an oestrogen-induction of both the ERE-LUC reporter gene and the endogenous pS2 gene which could still be inhibited by antioestrogen. This demonstrates that whilst ERalpha can be abrogated by fulvestrant and increased by tamoxifen in some circumstances, this does not always hold true and mechanisms other than alteration to ER must be involved in the development of antioestrogen resistant growth.

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