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Mol Cell Biol. 2012 May;32(10):1928-43. doi: 10.1128/MCB.06561-11. Epub 2012 Mar 19.

Phosphorylation by p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase promotes estrogen receptor α turnover and functional activity via the SCF(Skp2) proteasomal complex.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, USA.


The nuclear hormone receptor estrogen receptor α (ERα) mediates the actions of estrogens in target cells and is a master regulator of the gene expression and proliferative programs of breast cancer cells. The presence of ERα in breast cancer cells is crucial for the effectiveness of endocrine therapies, and its loss is a hallmark of endocrine-insensitive breast tumors. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the regulation of the cellular levels of ERα are not fully understood. Our findings reveal a unique cellular pathway involving the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38MAPK)-mediated phosphorylation of ERα at Ser-294 that specifies its turnover by the SCF(Skp2) proteasome complex. Consistently, we observed an inverse relationship between ERα and Skp2 or active p38MAPK in breast cancer cell lines and human tumors. ERα regulation by Skp2 was cell cycle stage dependent and critical for promoting the mitogenic effects of estradiol via ERα. Interestingly, by the knockdown of Skp2 or the inhibition of p38MAPK, we restored functional ERα protein levels and the control of gene expression and proliferation by estrogen and antiestrogen in ERα-negative breast cancer cells. Our findings highlight a novel pathway with therapeutic potential for restoring ERα and the responsiveness to endocrine therapy in some endocrine-insensitive ERα-negative breast cancers.

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