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Oncogene. 2010 Aug 19;29(33):4648-57. doi: 10.1038/onc.2010.209. Epub 2010 Jun 7.

Targeting the receptor tyrosine kinase RET sensitizes breast cancer cells to tamoxifen treatment and reveals a role for RET in endocrine resistance.

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  • 1Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre, Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK.


Endocrine therapy is the main therapeutic option for patients with estrogen receptor (ERalpha)-positive breast cancer. Resistance to this treatment is often associated with estrogen-independent activation of ERalpha. In this study, we show that in ERalpha-positive breast cancer cells, activation of the receptor tyrosine kinase RET (REarranged during Transfection) by its ligand GDNF results in increased ERalpha phosphorylation on Ser118 and Ser167 and estrogen-independent activation of ERalpha transcriptional activity. Further, we identify mTOR as a key component in this downstream signaling pathway. In tamoxifen response experiments, RET downregulation resulted in 6.2-fold increase in sensitivity of MCF7 cells to antiproliferative effects of tamoxifen, whereas GDNF stimulation had a protective effect against the drug. In tamoxifen-resistant (TAM(R)-1) MCF7 cells, targeting RET restored tamoxifen sensitivity. Finally, examination of two independent tissue microarrays of primary human breast cancers revealed that expression of RET protein was significantly associated with ERalpha-positive tumors and that in primary tumors from patients who subsequently developed invasive recurrence after adjuvant tamoxifen treatment, there was a twofold increase in the number of RET-positive tumors. Together these findings identify RET as a potentially important therapeutic target in ERalpha-positive breast cancers and in particular in tamoxifen-resistant tumors.

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