Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) effectively treat hormone receptor-positive postmenopausal breast cancer, but some patients do not respond to treatment or experience recurrence. Mechanisms of AI resistance include ligand-independent activation of the estrogen receptor (ER) and signaling via other growth factor receptors; however, these do not account for all forms of resistance. Here we present an alternative mechanism of AI resistance. We ectopically expressed aromatase in MCF-7 cells expressing green fluorescent protein as an index of ER activity. Aromatase-overexpressing MCF-7 cells were cultured in estrogen-depleted medium supplemented with testosterone and the AI, letrozole, to establish letrozole-resistant (LR) cell lines. Compared with parental cells, LR cells had higher mRNA levels of steroid sulfatase (STS), which converts estrone sulfate (E1S) to estrone, and the organic anion transporter peptides (OATPs), which mediate the uptake of E1S into cells. LR cells proliferated more in E1S-supplemented medium than did parental cells, and LR proliferation was effectively inhibited by an STS inhibitor in combination with letrozole and by ER-targeting drugs. Analysis of ER-positive primary breast cancer tissues showed a significant correlation between the increases in the mRNA levels of STS and the OATPs in the LR cell lines, which supports the validity of this AI-resistant model. This is the first study to demonstrate the contribution of STS and OATPs in E1S metabolism to the proliferation of AI-resistant breast cancer cells. We suggest that E1S metabolism represents a new target in AI-resistant breast cancer treatment.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)