Regulation of estrogen receptor messenger ribonucleic acid and protein levels in human breast cancer cell lines by sex steroid hormones, their antagonists, and growth factors

Linnea D. Read, Geoffrey L. Greene, Benita S. Katzenellenbogen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since sex steroid hormones and growth factors are known to modulate the proliferation of breast tumors, we have studied the effects of estrogen and progestin, their antagonists, and growth factors on the regulation of estrogen receptor (ER) mRNA and protein levels in T47D breast cancer cells, which contain low levels of ER, and in two sublines of MCF-7 cells which contain high ER levels. The mRNA levels were measured by Northern blot analysis using λOR8, a cDNA probe for ER, and protein levels were measured by hormone binding or Western blot analysis. Treatment of T47D cells with estradiol (E2) caused a 2.5-fold increase in ER mRNA (6.6 kilobases) levels after 48 h. The progestin R5020 evoked a marked decrease in ER mRNA and protein levels to 20% of control values, while the antiprogestin RU38,486 caused no change in ER. In MCF-7 cells, the effect of E2 on ER levels was dependent on the prior growth history of the cells. In cells grown in low estrogen [5% charcoal-dextran-treated calf serum with phenol red for 8 yr (MCF-7-K2)], which are still E2 responsive, treatment with E2, the antiestrogen LY117018, or both produced little change in ER mRNA or protein; in contrast, ER mRNA and protein were reduced by E2 to 40% and 50% of control levels, respectively, in MCF-7 cells (denoted MCF-7-K1) which had been maintained routinely in medium containing 5% calf serum. This decrease in ER mRNA was dose dependent; 10-11 E2 reduced levels to 60%, and 10-10M E2 evoked the maximal drop to 40% of the control level in 2 days. LY117018 alone did not alter ER mRNA levels in these cells, but it completely prevented the down-regulation of ER by E2. Administration of progestin, but not antiprogestin, along with E2 partially prevented the decrease in ER evoked by E2. Addition of epidermal growth factor or insulin-like growth factor-l to MCF-7-K1 cells, which increased cell proliferation, had no detectable effect on ER levels. Treatment with transforming growth factor-β, which decreased cell proliferation, reduced ER by about 20%. Hence, 1) whether there is up- or down-regulation of ER by E2 depends upon the cell line (T47D vs. MCF-7) and prior growth conditions; 2) E2 and LY117018 have different effects on ER regulation; 3) R5020 and RU38,486 regulate ER differently; and 4) the growth factors epidermal growth factor, insulin-like growth factor I, and transforming growth factor-β have only modest effects on ER levels. These findings suggest that the dominant factors regulating ER levels in these cells are the steroid hormone ligands themselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-304
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Endocrinology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology


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