Acquisition of epithelial-mesenchymal transition phenotype in the tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer cell: a new role for G protein-coupled estrogen receptor in mediating tamoxifen resistance through cancer-associated fibroblast-derived fibronectin and β1-integrin signaling pathway in tumor cells

Jie Yuan, Manran Liu, Li Yang, Gang Tu, Qing Zhu, Maoshan Chen, Hong Cheng, Haojun Luo, Weijie Fu, Zhenhua Li, Guanglun Yang
Breast Cancer Research: BCR 2015, 17: 69

INTRODUCTION: Acquired tamoxifen resistance remains the major obstacle to breast cancer endocrine therapy. β1-integrin was identified as one of the target genes of G protein-coupled estrogen receptor (GPER), a novel estrogen receptor recognized as an initiator of tamoxifen resistance. Here, we investigated the role of β1-integrin in GPER-mediated tamoxifen resistance in breast cancer.

METHODS: The expression of β1-integrin and biomarkers of epithelial-mesenchymal transition were evaluated immunohistochemically in 53 specimens of metastases and paired primary tumors. The function of β1-integrin was investigated in tamoxifen-resistant (MCF-7R) subclones, derived from parental MCF-7 cells, and MCF-7R β1-integrin-silenced subclones in MTT and Transwell assays. Involved signaling pathways were identified using specific inhibitors and Western blotting analysis.

RESULTS: GPER, β1-integrin and mesenchymal biomarkers (vimentin and fibronectin) expression in metastases increased compared to the corresponding primary tumors; a close expression pattern of β1-integrin and GPER were in metastases. Increased β1-integrin expression was also confirmed in MCF-7R cells compared with MCF-7 cells. This upregulation of β1-integrin was induced by agonists of GPER and blocked by both antagonist and knockdown of it in MCF-7R cells. Moreover, the epidermal growth factor receptor/extracellular regulated protein kinase (EGFR/ERK) signaling pathway was involved in this transcriptional regulation since specific inhibitors of these kinases also reduced the GPER-induced upregulation of β1-integrin. Interestingly, silencing of β1-integrin partially rescued the sensitivity of MCF-7R cells to tamoxifen and the α5β1-integrin subunit is probably responsible for this phenomenon. Importantly, the cell migration and epithelial-mesenchymal transition induced by cancer-associated fibroblasts, or the product of cancer-associated fibroblasts, fibronectin, were reduced by knockdown of β1-integrin in MCF-7R cells. In addition, the downstream kinases of β1-integrin including focal adhesion kinase, Src and AKT were activated in MCF-7R cells and may be involved in the interaction between cancer cells and cancer-associated fibroblasts.

CONCLUSIONS: GPER/EGFR/ERK signaling upregulates β1-integrin expression and activates downstream kinases, which contributes to cancer-associated fibroblast-induced cell migration and epithelial-mesenchymal transition, in MCF-7R cells. GPER probably contributes to tamoxifen resistance via interaction with the tumor microenvironment in a β1-integrin-dependent pattern. Thus, β1-integrin may be a potential target to improve anti-hormone therapy responses in breast cancer patients.

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