Response-specific antiestrogen resistance in a newly characterized MCF-7 human breast cancer cell line resulting from long-term exposure to trans-hydroxytamoxifen

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To understand better the antiestrogen-resistant phenotype that frequently develops in breast cancer patients receiving tamoxifen, we cultured MCF-7 breast cancer cells long-term (> 1 yr) in the presence of the antiestrogen trans-hydroxytamoxifen (TOT) to generate a subline refractory to the growth-suppressive effects of TOT. This subline (designated MCF/TOT) showed growth stimulation, rather than inhibition, with TOT and diminished growth stimulation with estradiol (E2), yet remained as sensitive as the parental cells to growth suppression by another antiestrogen, ICI 164,384. Estrogen receptor (ER) levels were maintained at 40% of that in parent MCF-7 cells, but MCF/TOT cells failed to show an increase in progesterone receptor content in response to E2 or TOT treatment. In contrast, the MCF/TOT subline behaved like parental cells in terms of E2 and TOT regulation of ER and pS2 expression and transactivation of a transiently transfected estrogen-responsive gene construct. DNA sequencing of the hormone binding domain of the ER from both MCF-7 and MCF/TOT cells confirmed the presence of wild-type ER and exon 5 and exon 7 deletion splice variants, but showed no point mutations. Compared to the parental cells, the MCF/TOT subline showed reduced sensitivity to the growth-suppressive effects of retinoic acid and complete resistance to exogenous TGF-β1. The altered growth responsiveness of MCF/TOT cells to TOT and TGF-β1 was partly to fully reversible following TOT withdrawal for 16 weeks. Our findings underscore the fact that antiestrogen resistance is response-specific; that loss of growth suppression by TOT appears to be due to the acquisition of weak growth stimulation; and that resistance to TOT does not mean global resistance to other more pure antiestrogens such as ICI 164,384, implying that these antiestrogens must act by somewhat different mechanisms. The association of reduced retinoic acid responsiveness and insensitivity to exogenous TGF-β with antiestrogen growth resistance in these cells supports the increasing evidence for interrelationships among cell regulatory pathways utilized by these three growth-suppressive agents in breast cancer cells. In addition, our findings indicate that one mechanism of antiestrogen resistance, as seen in MCF/TOT cells, may involve alterations in growth factor and other hormonal pathways that affect the ER response pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-134
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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