Signaling pathways of apoptosis activated by aromatase inhibitors and antiestrogens

Apinya Thiantanawat, Brian J Long, Angela M Brodie
Cancer Research 2003 November 15, 63 (22): 8037-50
Aromatase inhibitors have recently been reported to be more effective than the antiestrogen tamoxifen (Tam) in treating breast cancer. Here, we studied the mechanisms and signaling pathways of cell growth, cell cycle progression, and apoptosis induced by three aromatase inhibitors: letrozole (Let), anastrozole, and 4-hydroxyandrostenedione in comparison with estrogen withdrawal (E2W) and antiestrogens Tam and faslodex. Estrogen-dependent human breast cancer cells stably transfected with aromatase (MCF-7Ca) were used. All treatments induced growth suppression and cell cycle arrest at the G(0)-G(1) phase that was associated with up-regulation of p53 and p21 protein and mRNA levels and down-regulation of cyclin D1 and c-myc mRNA. The apoptotic index was increased 4-7 fold, Bcl-2 protein expression decreased, Bax increased, and caspase-9, caspase-6, and caspase-7 were activated but not caspase-3 and caspase-8. Let and E2W caused regression of tumors of MCF-7Ca cells grown in nude mice and increased the number of cells undergoing apoptosis. In contrast, Tam and faslodex did not induce tumor regression and a lower number of apoptotic cells was detected. Cleavage of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase was detected. Treatment with Let, Tam, or E2W resulted in a dose- and time-dependent increase in active caspase-7 and up-regulation of p53 and p21 protein. Although the mechanisms involved appeared to be similar for antiestrogens and aromatase inhibitors, the most significant effects occurred with Let, which were significantly greater than with E2W and consistent with marked effects of Let on tumor and cell growth.

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