Adrenal androgens stimulate the proliferation of breast cancer cells as direct activators of estrogen receptor alpha
Estrogens stimulate the proliferation of many breast tumors and cell lines derived from them. Antiestrogens have therefore become a powerful therapeutic agent to treat breast tumors that express estrogen receptor (ER) alpha. In addition, aromatase inhibitors are now used in postmenopausal women to block the in situ conversion of adrenal androgens to estrogens. This approach can only be successful if ER-alpha in a particular tumor is not directly stimulated by adrenal androgens. We have examined
... s. We have examined this possibility using several different cell lines as model systems: (a) wild-type MCF7 cells, an ER-alpha-dependent human breast cancer cell line; (b) MCF7SH cells, an estrogen-independent MCF7 variant; (c) Ishikawa cells, an ER-alpha-containing human uterine cell line; (d) ER-negative HeLa cells; and (e) budding yeast. Transactivation assays with transfected ER-alpha reporter genes reveal a direct activation of ER-alpha by dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), 5alpha-androstene-3beta,17beta-diol, testosterone, and the two nonaromatizable androgens, dihydrotestosterone and 5alpha-androstane-3beta,17beta-diol. The involvement of other steroid receptors could be ruled out with specific antihormones. Moreover, the same set of ligands stimulates the proliferation of the two breast cancer cell lines. At subsaturating and physiologically relevant concentrations of DHEA, DHEA stimulates the proliferation of MCF7SH cells, which correlates with a substantial, albeit submaximal, transcriptional response. Thus, adrenal androgens must also be considered as risk factors in postmenopausal women.