It is well known that sex steroids are involved in the growth of breast cancers, and the great majority of breast carcinomas express estrogen (ER), progesterone (PR), and androgen (AR) receptors. In particular, recent studies have demonstrated that estrogens and androgens are locally produced in breast carcinoma tissues, and total blockade of in situ estrogen production potentially leads to an improvement in prognosis of breast cancer patients. Therefore, it is important to obtain a better understanding of sex steroid-producing enzymes in breast carcinoma tissues. In this review, we summarize recent studies on the expression and regulation of enzymes related to intratumoral production of estrogens (aromatase, 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (17βHSD1), and steroid sulfatase (STS) etc) and androgens (17βHSD5 and 5α-reductase) in human breast carcinoma tissues, and discuss the biological and/or clinical significance of these enzymes. The cellular localization of aromatase in breast carcinoma tissues still remains controversial. Therefore, we examined localization of aromatase mRNA in breast carcinoma tissues by laser capture microdissection/real time-polymerase chain reaction. Aromatase mRNA expression was detected in both carcinoma and intratumoral stromal cells, and the expression level of aromatase mRNA was higher in intratumoral stromal cells than in carcinoma cells in the cases examined. We also examined an association among the immunoreactivity of enzymes related to intratumoral estrogen production and ERs in breast carcinoma tissues, but no significant association was detected. Therefore, the enzymes responsible for the intratumoral production of estrogen may not always be the same among breast cancer patients, and not only aromatase but also other enzymes such as STS and 17βHSD1 may have important therapeutic potential as targets for endocrine therapy in breast cancer patients.
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