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Pharmacol Rev. 1998 Jun;50(2):151-96.

Basic guide to the mechanisms of antiestrogen action.

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  • 1Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


Forty years ago, Lerner and coworkers (1958) discovered the first nonsteroidal antiestrogen and Jensen (Jensen and Jacobson, 1960) identified a target for drug action, the ER. This knowledge opened the door for the clinical development of tamoxifen which we now know provides a survival advantage in both node-positive and node-negative patients with ER-positive disease (Early Breast Cancer Trialists Collaborative Group, 1992, 1998). The drug has been studied extensively, and the results have provided an invaluable insight into possible ancillary advantages of "antiestrogens", i.e., maintenance of bone density and the prevention of coronary heart disease, and possible disadvantages, i.e., rat liver carcinogenesis and an increased risk of endometrial cancer. Most importantly, the identification of the target site-specific actions of tamoxifen caused a paradigm shift in the prospective uses of antiestrogens from a direct exploitation of the antitumor properties to the broader application as a preventative for osteoporosis, but with the beneficial side effects of preventing breast and endometrial cancer. Raloxifene, a second-generation SERM, has all the properties in the laboratory that would encourage development as a safe preventative for osteoporosis (Jordan et al., 1997). As a result, raloxifene has been evaluated in more than 11,000 postmenopausal women and found to maintain bone density with significant decreases in breast cancer incidence and no increase in endometrial thickness. Raloxifene is now available as a preventative for osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. There is every reason to believe that a multifaceted agent like raloxifene will find widespread use, and there will be continuing interest by the pharmaceutical industry in the development of new agents with even broader applications. The extensive clinical effort is augmented by past molecular innovations in the laboratory and the future promise of new discoveries. The cloning and sequencing of the ER (Green et al., 1986; Greene et al., 1986) has allowed the development of an ER knock-out mouse (Lubahn et al., 1993) that compliments Jensen's pioneering work (Jensen and Jacobson, 1962) and describes the consequences of the loss of ER alpha. However, ER beta (Kuiper et al., 1996), the second ER, has provided an additional dimension to the description of estrogen and antiestrogen action. For the future, the development of ER beta monoclonal antibodies, the classification of target sites for the protein around the body, and the creation of ER beta and ER alpha, beta knock-out mice will identify new therapeutic targets to modulate physiological functions. Clearly, the successful crystallization of ER alpha with raloxifene (Brzozowski et al., 1997) must act as a stimulus for the crystallization of ER beta. The central issue for research on antiestrogen pharmacology is the discovery of the mechanism (or mechanisms) of target site-specificity for the modulation of estrogenic and antiestrogenic response. The description of a stimulatory pathway for antiestrogens through an AP-1 ER beta signal transduction pathway (Paech et al., 1997), although interesting, may not entirely explain the estrogenicity of antiestrogens. The model must encompass the sum of pharmacological consequences of signal transduction through ER alpha and ER beta with the simultaneous competition from endogenous estrogens at both sites. This is complicated because estradiol is an antagonist at ER beta through AP-1 sites (Paech et al., 1997), so this is clearly not the pathway for estrogen-induced bone maintenance in women. Estrogen is stimulatory through ER alpha, but antiestrogens are usually partial agonists and may either block or stimulate genes. However, we suggest that the ER alpha stimulatory pathway could be amplified through selective increases in coactivators. The principle is illustrated with the MDA-MB-231 cells stably transfected with the cDNAs for the wild-type and the amino acid 351 mutan

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