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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2003 Mar;84(4):469-78.

Effect of antiestrogens and aromatase inhibitor on basal growth of the human breast cancer cell line MCF-7 in serum-free medium.

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Department of Tumor Endocrinology, Institute of Cancer Biology, Danish Cancer Society, Strandboulevarden 49, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark.


Antiestrogens are efficient inhibitors of estrogen-mediated growth of human breast cancer. Besides inhibiting estradiol-stimulated growth, antiestrogens may have a direct growth-inhibitory effect on estrogen receptor (ER) positive cells and thus be more efficient than aromatase inhibitors, which will only abrogate estrogen-dependent tumor growth. To address this issue, we have used the human breast cancer cell line MCF-7/S9 as a model system which is maintained in a chemically defined medium without serum and estrogen. The addition of estradiol results in an increase in cell growth rate. Thus, the MCF-7/S9 cell line is estrogen-responsive but not estrogen-dependent. Three different types of antiestrogens, namely tamoxifen, ICI 182,780 and EM-652 were found to exert a significant and dose-dependent inhibition of basal growth of MCF-7/S9 cells. The growth-inhibitory effect of the three antiestrogens was prevented by simultaneous estradiol treatment. Antiestrogen treatment also reduced the basal pS2 mRNA expression level, thus indicating spontaneous estrogenic activity in the cells. However, treatment with the aromatase inhibitor had no effect on basal cell growth, excluding that endogenous estrogen synthesis is involved in basal growth. These data demonstrate that in addition to their estrogen antagonistic effect, antiestrogens have a direct growth-inhibitory effect which is ER-mediated. Consequently, in the subset of ER positive breast cancer patients with estrogen-independent tumor growth, antiestrogen therapy may be superior to treatment with aromatase inhibitors which only inhibit estrogen formation but do not affect cancer cell growth in the absence of estrogens.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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