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Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2009 Aug;116(3):461-70. doi: 10.1007/s10549-008-0151-x. Epub 2008 Aug 3.

Characterization of the weak estrogen receptor alpha agonistic activity of exemestane.

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Department of Surgical Research, Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, Duarte, CA 91010, USA.


Third generation aromatase inhibitors (AI) have shown good clinical efficacy in comparison to the anti-estrogen tamoxifen. The steroidal AI, exemestane (EXE) has previously been shown to act as an androgen, but this report demonstrates the estrogen-like activity of EXE. Based on genome-wide microarray analysis, high correlation was seen between EXE-Only (EXE O, hormone-free) and hormone-containing AI-resistant lines. In addition, the top regulated genes in the EXE O lines were mostly estrogen-responsive genes. This estrogen-like activity of EXE was further validated using estrogen receptor (ER) activity assays, where in comparison to 17beta-estradiol (E2), EXE was able to induce ER activity, though at a higher concentration. Also, this EXE-mediated ER activity was blocked by the ER antagonist ICI as well as the ERalpha-specific antagonist methyl-piperidino-pyrazole (MPP). Similarly, EXE was able to induce proliferation of breast cancer cell lines, MCF-7 and MCF-7aro, as well as activate transcription of known estrogen-responsive genes, i.e., PGR, pS2 and AREG. These results suggest that EXE does have weak estrogen-like activity.

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