Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Cancer and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Epidermal growth factor receptor signalling in human breast cancer cells operates parallel to estrogen receptor α signalling and results in tamoxifen insensitive proliferation

Marja Moerkens, Yinghui Zhang, Lynn Wester, Bob van de Water and John HN Meerman*

Author Affiliations

Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research (LACDR), Department of Toxicology, Leiden University, Einsteinweg 55, 2333 CC Leiden The Netherlands

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Cancer 2014, 14:283  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-283

Published: 23 April 2014

Abstract

Background

Tamoxifen resistance is a major problem in the treatment of estrogen receptor (ER) α -positive breast cancer patients. Although the mechanisms behind tamoxifen resistance are still not completely understood, clinical data suggests that increased expression of receptor tyrosine kinases is involved. Here, we studied the estrogen and anti-estrogen sensitivity of human breast cancer MCF7 cells that have a moderate, retroviral-mediated, ectopic expression of epidermal growth factor receptor (MCF7-EGFR).

Methods

Proliferation of MCF7-EGFR and parental cells was induced by 17β-estradiol (E2), epidermal growth factor (EGF) or a combination of these. Inhibition of proliferation under these conditions was investigated with 4-hydroxy-tamoxifen (TAM) or fulvestrant at 10-12 to 10-6 M. Cells were lysed at different time points to determine the phosphorylation status of EGFR, MAPK1/3, AKT and the expression of ERα. Knockdown of target genes was established using smartpool siRNAs. Transcriptomics analysis was done 6 hr after stimulation with growth factors using Affymetrix HG-U133 PM array plates.

Results

While proliferation of parental MCF7 cells could only be induced by E2, proliferation of MCF7-EGFR cells could be induced by either E2 or EGF. Treatment with TAM or fulvestrant did significantly inhibit proliferation of MCF7-EGFR cells stimulated with E2 alone. EGF treatment of E2/TAM treated cells led to a marked cell proliferation thereby overruling the anti-estrogen-mediated inhibition of cell proliferation. Under these conditions, TAM however did still inhibit ERα- mediated transcription. While siRNA-mediated knock-down of EGFR inhibited the EGF- driven proliferation under TAM/E2/EGF condition, knock down of ERα did not. The TAM resistant cell proliferation mediated by the conditional EGFR-signaling may be dependent on the PI3K/Akt pathway but not the MEK/MAPK pathway, since a MEK inhibitor (U0126), did not block the proliferation. Transcriptomic analysis under the various E2/TAM/EGF conditions revealed that E2 and EGF dependent transcription have little overlap and rather operate in a parallel fashion.

Conclusions

Our data indicate that enhanced EGFR-driven signalling is sufficient to overrule the TAM- mediated inhibition of E2-driven cell proliferation. This may have profound implications for the anti-estrogen treatment of ER-positive breast cancers that have increased levels of EGFR.

Keywords:
Estrogen receptor; Breast cancer; Tamoxifen resistance; Epidermal growth factor receptor; PI3K/Akt signalling