Src couples estrogen receptor to the anticipatory unfolded protein response and regulates cancer cell fate under stress

Liqun Yu, Lawrence Wang, Ji Eun Kim, Chengjian Mao, David J. Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Accumulation of unfolded protein, or other stresses, activates the classical reactive unfolded protein response (UPR). In the recently characterized anticipatory UPR, receptor-bound estrogen, progesterone and other mitogenic hormones rapidly elicit phosphorylation of phospholipase C γ (PLCγ), activating the anticipatory UPR. How estrogen and progesterone activating their receptors couples to PLCγ phosphorylation and anticipatory UPR activation was unknown. We show that the oncogene c-Src is a rate-limiting regulator whose tyrosine kinase activity links estrogen and progesterone activating their receptors to anticipatory UPR activation. Supporting Src coupling estrogen and progesterone to anticipatory UPR activation, we identified extranuclear complexes of estrogen receptor α (ERα):Src:PLCγ and progesterone receptor:Src:PLCγ. Moreover, Src inhibition protected cancer cells against cell death. To probe Src's role, we used the preclinical ERα biomodulator, BHPI, which kills cancer cells by inducing lethal anticipatory UPR hyperactivation. Notably, Src inhibition blocked BHPI-mediated anticipatory UPR activation and the resulting rapid increase in intracellular calcium. After unbiased long-term selection for BHPI-resistant human breast cancer cells, 4/11 BHPI-resistant T47D clones, and nearly all MCF-7 clones, exhibited reduced levels of normally growth-stimulating Src. Notably, Src overexpression by virus transduction restored sensitivity to BHPI. Furthermore, in wild type cells, several-fold knockdown of Src, but not of ERα, strongly blocked BHPI-mediated UPR activation and subsequent HMGB1 release and necrotic cell death. Thus, Src plays a previously undescribed pivotal role in activation of the tumor-protective anticipatory UPR, thereby increasing the resilience of breast cancer cells. This is a new role for Src and the anticipatory UPR in breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118765
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular Cell Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Calcium
  • Cancer cell death
  • Dasatinib
  • Estrogen receptor
  • Src
  • Unfolded protein response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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