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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Jun;963:229-38.

Prevention and treatment of breast cancer by suppressing aromatase activity and expression.

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Division of Immunology, Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, Duarte, California 91010, USA.


Estrogen promotes the proliferation of breast cancer cells. Aromatase is the enzyme that converts androgen to estrogen. In tumors, expression of aromatase is upregulated compared to that of surrounding noncancerous tissue. Tumor aromatase is thought to stimulate breast cancer growth in both an autocrine and a paracrine manner. A treatment strategy for breast cancer is to abolish in situ estrogen formation with aromatase inhibitors. In addition, aromatase suppression in postmenapausal women is being evaluated as a potential chemopreventive modality against breast cancer. One area of aromatase research in this laboratory is the identification of foods and dietary compounds that can suppress aromatase activity. In vitro and in vivo studies have found that grapes and mushrooms contain chemicals that can inhibit aromatase. Therefore, a diet that includes grapes and mushrooms would be considered preventative against breast cancer. Another area of our aromatase research is the elucidation of the regulatory mechanism of aromatase expression in breast cancer tissue. Increased aromatase expression in breast tumors is attributed to changes in the transcriptional control of aromatase expression. Whereas promoter I.4 is the main promoter that controls aromatase expression in noncancerous breast tissue, promoters II and I.3 are the dominant promoters that drive aromatase expression in breast cancer tissue. Our recent gene regulation studies revealed that in cancerous versus normal tissue, several positive regulatory proteins (e.g., nuclear receptors and CREB1) are present at higher levels and several negative regulatory proteins (e.g., snail and slug proteins) are present at lower levels. This may explain why the activity of promoters II and I.3 is upregulated in cancerous tissue. In addition, our in vitro transcription/translation analysis using plasmids containing T7 promoter and the human snail gene as a reporter capped with different untranslated exon Is revealed that exon PII-containing transcripts were translated more effectively than were exon I.3-containing transcripts. An understanding of the molecular mechanisms of aromatase expression between noncancerous and cancerous breast tissue, at both transcriptional and translational levels, may help in the design of a therapy based on suppressing aromatase expression in breast cancer tissue.

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