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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2002 Dec;83(1-5):93-9.

Transcriptional regulation of aromatase expression in human breast tissue.

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  • 1Division of Immunology, Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, Duarte, CA 91010, USA.


Aromatase (CYP19) is the estrogen synthetase that converts androgen to estrogen. The expression of aromatase in breast cancer cells and surrounding stromal cells is up regulated compared to non-cancerous cells. In situ estrogen synthesis is thought to stimulate breast cancer growth in both an autocrine and a paracrine manner. A complex mechanism is involved in the control of human aromatase expression, in that seven promoters have been identified and found to be utilized in a tissue-selective manner. Increased aromatase expression in breast tumors is, in part, attributed to changes in the transcriptional control of aromatase expression. While promoter I.4 is the main promoter that controls aromatase expression in non-cancer breast tissue, promoters II and I.3 are the dominant promoters that drive aromatase expression in breast cancer tissue. During the last several years, our laboratory performed a series of studies to examine the transcription regulatory mechanism of aromatase expression in breast cancer cells. We functionally characterized promoters II and I.3, and carried out DNase 1 footprinting analysis that identified two regulatory elements, S1 and CREaro. Using the yeast one-hybrid approach to screen a human breast tissue hybrid cDNA expression library, we found that four orphan/nuclear receptors, ERR alpha-1, EAR-2, COUP-TFI and RAR gamma, bind to the S1 element, and that CREB1, Snail (SnaH) and Slug proteins bind to the CREaro element. Studies from this and other laboratories have revealed that in cancer tissue versus normal tissue, several positive regulatory proteins (e.g. ERR alpha-1 and CREB1) are present at higher levels and several negative regulatory proteins (e.g. EAR-2, COUP-TFI, RAR gamma, Snail and Slug proteins) are present at lower levels. This may explain why the activity of promoters II and I.3 is up regulated in cancer tissue. An understanding of the molecular mechanisms of aromatase expression between non-cancerous and cancerous breast tissue, at the transcriptional level, may help in the design of a therapy based on the suppression of aromatase expression in breast cancer tissue.

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