Antiestrogen action in breast cancer cells: Modulation of proliferation and protein synthesis, and interaction with estrogen receptors and additional antiestrogen binding sites

Benita S. Katzenellenbogen, Margaret Ann Miller, Alaka Mullick, Yhun Yhong Sheen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antiestrogens have proven to be effective in controlling the growth of hormone-responsive breast cancers. At the concentrations of antiestrogens achieved in the blood of breast cancer patients taking antiestrogens (up to 2 × 10-6 M), antiestrogens selectively inhibit the proliferation of estrogen receptor-containing breast cancer cells, and this inhibition is reversible by estradiol. Antiestrogens also inhibit estrogen-stimulation of several specific protein synthetic activities in breast cancer cells, including increases in plasminogen activator activity, progesterone receptor levels and production of several secreted glycoproteins and intracellular proteins. Antiestrogens bind with high affinity to the estrogen receptor and to additional microsomal binding sites to which estrogens do not bind. These latter sites, called antiestrogen binding sites (AEBS), are present in equal concentrations in estrogen receptor-positive and -negative breast cancer cells and are present in a wide variety of tissues, with highest concentrations being found in the liver. The antiestrogenic and growth suppressive potencies of a variety of antiestrogens correlate best with their affinity for estrogen receptor and not with affinity for AEBS. Antiestrogens undergo bioactivation and metabolism in vivo and hydroxylated forms of the antiestrogen have markedly enhanced affinities for the estrogen receptor. Detailed studies with high affinity radiolabelled antiestrogens indicate that antiestrogens induce important conformational changes in receptor that are reflected in the enhanced maintenance of a 5 S form of the estrogen receptor complex; reduced interaction with DNA; and altered activation and dissociation kinetics of the antiestrogen-estrogen receptor complex. These conformational changes effected by antiestrogens likely result in different interactions with chromatin, causing altered cell proliferation and protein synthesis. Analyses of the rates of synthesis and turnover of the estrogen receptor through pulse-chase experiments utilizing the covalently attaching antiestrogen, tamoxifen aziridine, and studies employing dense amino acid labeling of estrogen receptor reveal that the antiestrogen-occupied receptor is degraded at a rate (t 1/2 = 4 h) similar to that of the control unoccupied receptor. Hence, antiestrogens do not prevent estrogen receptor synthesis and they do not either accelerate or block estrogen receptor degradation. Our findings raise serious doubts about the role of the AEBS in mediating directly the growth suppressive actions of antiestrogens, and suggest that interaction with the estrogen receptor is most likely the mechanism underlying the growth-inhibitory effects of antiestrogens. At present, the role of the AEBS in the actions of antiestrogens or in possible antiestrogen metabolism remains unclear.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-243
Number of pages13
JournalBreast Cancer Research and Treatment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1985


  • antiestrogen binding sites
  • antiestrogens
  • breast cancer
  • estrogen receptors
  • growth inhibition
  • mechanism of antiestrogen action
  • tamoxifen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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