Open Access Research article

GP88 (PC-Cell Derived Growth Factor, progranulin) stimulates proliferation and confers letrozole resistance to aromatase overexpressing breast cancer cells

Tesfom Abrhale12, Angela Brodie34, Gauri Sabnis34, Luciana Macedo3, Changsheng Tian1, Binbin Yue1 and Ginette Serrero14*

Author Affiliations

1 A&G Pharmaceutical Inc. 9130 Red Branch Rd. Columbia, MD, USA

2 Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, 20 N Pine Street, Baltimore MD 21201, USA

3 Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, University of Maryland School of Medicine, HSF-I, 685 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA

4 Program in Oncology, Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine, 22 S. Greene St. Baltimore, MD 21201, USA

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BMC Cancer 2011, 11:231  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-231

Published: 9 June 2011



Aromatase inhibitors (AI) that inhibit breast cancer cell growth by blocking estrogen synthesis have become the treatment of choice for post-menopausal women with estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer. However, some patients display de novo or acquired resistance to AI. Interactions between estrogen and growth factor signaling pathways have been identified in estrogen-responsive cells as one possible reason for acquisition of resistance. Our laboratory has characterized an autocrine growth factor overexpressed in invasive ductal carcinoma named PC-Cell Derived Growth Factor (GP88), also known as progranulin. In the present study, we investigated the role GP88 on the acquisition of resistance to letrozole in ER+ breast cancer cells


We used two aromatase overexpressing human breast cancer cell lines MCF-7-CA cells and AC1 cells and their letrozole resistant counterparts as study models. Effect of stimulating or inhibiting GP88 expression on proliferation, anchorage-independent growth, survival and letrozole responsiveness was examined.


GP88 induced cell proliferation and conferred letrozole resistance in a time- and dose-dependent fashion. Conversely, naturally letrozole resistant breast cancer cells displayed a 10-fold increase in GP88 expression when compared to letrozole sensitive cells. GP88 overexpression, or exogenous addition blocked the inhibitory effect of letrozole on proliferation, and stimulated survival and soft agar colony formation. In letrozole resistant cells, silencing GP88 by siRNA inhibited cell proliferation and restored their sensitivity to letrozole.


Our findings provide information on the role of an alternate growth and survival factor on the acquisition of aromatase inhibitor resistance in ER+ breast cancer.