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Mol Med. 2001 Jan;7(1):59-67.

A therapeutic target for hormone-independent estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers.

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Division of Cancer Biology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.



The action of the steroid hormone estradiol (E2) is mediated via interaction with a specific receptor (ER) that initiates a series of events downstream, leading to the modulation of hormone-responsive genes and cell proliferation. Antihormones also bind, but do not confer the active configuration to ER, thereby, blocking the transmission of E2-ER-initiated signals for cell proliferation. Although these compounds qualify for successful therapy of ER-positive [ER (+)] breast cancer patients, only a fraction of patients responds to antihormone treatment. In this study, the functional status of ER is determined to identify alternative targets for therapy of antihormone-resistant ER (+) breast cancers.


The interaction of ER with a specific DNA sequence, designated as E2 response element (ERE), was targeted to assess the functional state of ER. ER-ERE complex formation was measured by electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA) and by a newly developed technique, based on the preferential binding of DNA-protein complex to a nitrocellulose membrane (NMBA) that measures both total and functional fraction of ER.


The NMBA assay identified functional variants of ER among ER (+) breast cancer cell lines and breast tumor biopsy specimens. ER of (21PT) cells did not bind E2 and these cells were tamoxifen (TAM) resistant. However 21PT cells were sensitive to a calmodulin (CaM) antagonist, W7, that blocked ERE-ER complex formation.


ER variants of the 21PT type were detected among breast cancer biopsy specimens, emphasizing the significance of an alternative therapeutic target for TAM-resistant ER (+) human breast cancers with compounds such as W7.

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