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PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e30174. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030174. Epub 2012 Jan 19.

Estrogen receptor-alpha 36 mediates mitogenic antiestrogen signaling in ER-negative breast cancer cells.

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Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, Creighton University Medical School, Omaha, Nebraska, United States of America.


It is prevailingly thought that the antiestrogens tamoxifen and ICI 182, 780 are competitive antagonists of the estrogen-binding site of the estrogen receptor-alpha (ER-α). However, a plethora of evidence demonstrated both antiestrogens exhibit agonist activities in different systems such as activation of the membrane-initiated signaling pathways. The mechanisms by which antiestrogens mediate estrogen-like activities have not been fully established. Previously, a variant of ER-α, EP-α36, has been cloned and showed to mediate membrane-initiated estrogen and antiestrogen signaling in cells only expressing ER-α36. Here, we investigated the molecular mechanisms underlying the antiestrogen signaling in ER-negative breast cancer MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-436 cells that express high levels of endogenous ER-α36. We found that the effects of both 4-hydoxytamoxifen (4-OHT) and ICI 182, 780 (ICI) exhibited a non-monotonic, or biphasic dose response curve; antiestrogens at low concentrations, elicited a mitogenic signaling pathway to stimulate cell proliferation while at high concentrations, antiestrogens inhibited cell growth. Antiestrogens at l nM induced the phosphorylation of the Src-Y416 residue, an event to activate Src, while at 5 µM induced Src-Y527 phosphorylation that inactivates Src. Antiestrogens at 1 nM also induced phosphorylation of the MAPK/ERK and activated the Cyclin D1 promoter activity through the Src/EGFR/STAT5 pathways but not at 5 µM. Knock-down of ER-α36 abrogated the biphasic antiestrogen signaling in these cells. Our results thus indicated that ER-α36 mediates biphasic antiestrogen signaling in the ER-negative breast cancer cells and Src functions as a switch of antiestrogen signaling dependent on concentrations of antiestrogens through the EGFR/STAT5 pathway.

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