[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Genetic risk for breast cancer is conferred by a combination of multiple variants of small effect. To better understand how risk loci might combine, we examined whether risk-associated genes share regulatory mechanisms. We created a breast cancer gene regulatory network comprising transcription factors and groups of putative target genes (regulons) and asked whether specific regulons are enriched for genes associated with risk loci via expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs). We identified 36 overlapping regulons that were enriched for risk loci and formed a distinct cluster within the network, suggesting shared biology. The risk transcription factors driving these regulons are frequently mutated in cancer and lie in two opposing subgroups, which relate to estrogen receptor (ER)(+) luminal A or luminal B and ER(-) basal-like cancers and to different luminal epithelial cell populations in the adult mammary gland. Our network approach provides a foundation for determining the regulatory circuits governing breast cancer, to identify targets for intervention, and is transferable to other disease settings.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The importance of androgen receptor (AR) signaling is increasingly being recognized in breast cancer, which has elicited clinical trials aimed at assessing the efficacy of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) for metastatic disease. In prostate cancer, resistance to ADT is frequently associated with the emergence of androgen-independent splice variants of the AR (AR variants, AR-Vs) that lack the LBD and are constitutively active. Women with breast cancer may be prone to a similar phenomenon. Herein, we show that in addition to the prototypical transcript, the AR gene produces a diverse range of AR-V transcripts in primary breast tumors. The most frequently and highly expressed variant was AR-V7 (exons 1/2/3/CE3), which was detectable at the mRNA level in > 50% of all breast cancers and at the protein level in a subset of ERα-negative tumors. Functionally, AR-V7 is a constitutively active and ADT-resistant transcription factor that promotes growth and regulates a transcriptional program distinct from AR in ERα-negative breast cancer cells. Importantly, we provide ex vivo evidence that AR-V7 is upregulated by the AR antagonist enzalutamide in primary breast tumors. These findings have implications for treatment response in the ongoing clinical trials of ADT in breast cancer.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The hormone-sensing mammary epithelial cell (HS-MEC-expressing oestrogen receptor-alpha (ERα) and progesterone receptor (PGR)) is often represented as being terminally differentiated and lacking significant progenitor activity after puberty. Therefore while able to profoundly influence the proliferation and function of other MEC populations, HS-MECs are purported not to respond to sex hormone signals by engaging in significant cell proliferation during adulthood. This is a convenient and practical simplification that overshadows the sublime, and potentially critical, phenotypic plasticity found within the adult HS-MEC population. This concept is exemplified by the large proportion (~80 %) of human breast cancers expressing PGR and/or ERα, demonstrating that HS-MECs clearly proliferate in the context of breast cancer. Understanding how HS-MEC proliferation and differentiation is driven could be key to unraveling the mechanisms behind uncontrolled HS-MEC proliferation associated with ERα- and/or PGR-positive breast cancers. Herein we review evidence for the existence of a HS-MEC progenitor and the emerging plasticity of the HS-MEC population in general. This is followed by an analysis of hormones other than oestrogen and progesterone that are able to influence HS-MEC proliferation and differentiation: androgens, prolactin and transforming growth factor-beta1.
No preview · Article · Sep 2015 · Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Progesterone receptor (PR) expression is used as a biomarker of oestrogen receptor-α (ERα) function and breast cancer prognosis. Here we show that PR is not merely an ERα-induced gene target, but is also an ERα-associated protein that modulates its behaviour. In the presence of agonist ligands, PR associates with ERα to direct ERα chromatin binding events within breast cancer cells, resulting in a unique gene expression programme that is associated with good clinical outcome. Progesterone inhibited oestrogen-mediated growth of ERα(+) cell line xenografts and primary ERα(+) breast tumour explants, and had increased anti-proliferative effects when coupled with an ERα antagonist. Copy number loss of PGR, the gene coding for PR, is a common feature in ERα(+) breast cancers, explaining lower PR levels in a subset of cases. Our findings indicate that PR functions as a molecular rheostat to control ERα chromatin binding and transcriptional activity, which has important implications for prognosis and therapeutic interventions.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The c-kit/kit ligand (KITL) signalling axis is an essential component of ovarian folliculogenesis in mammals, but little is known about expression and localisation of its key components in the ovaries of reproductive age women. This study aimed to characterise mRNA expression of c-kit and KITL isoforms and the localisation of c-kit and KITL proteins in adult human premenopausal ovaries.
This study utilised granulosa cells obtained from the preovulatory follicles of women undergoing assisted reproduction, pieces of ovarian tissue obtained from premenopausal women undergoing gynaecological surgeries and archival paraffin-embedded premenopausal ovarian tissues. Methodology included PCR for gene expression and Western blot or immunohistochemistry for protein expression.
Both c-kit mRNA isoforms, known as GNNK+ and GNNK-, were detected in human ovarian cortex, while KITL protein isoforms (KITL1 and KITL2) were present in ovarian cortex and human granulosa cells. Immunohistochemistry showed expression of KITL and c-kit protein in multiple cell types within follicles throughout development, from primordial follicles to large antral follicles, in addition to atretic follicles. Oocytes of all follicle stages expressed c-kit protein exclusively. Interestingly, unlike animal models, expression of both proteins displayed a less cell-type specific distribution with immunostaining present in granulosa, theca and stromal cells, suggesting that autocrine signalling occurs within the human ovary.
The results of this study indicate that c-kit/KITL signalling also occurs in the human ovary, as established in various animal models, and may involve previously unknown autocrine signalling.
Full-text · Article · May 2015 · Journal of Ovarian Research
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: While it has been known for decades that androgen hormones influence normal breast development and breast carcinogenesis, the underlying mechanisms are only recently being elucidated. To date, most studies have focused on androgen action in breast cancer cell lines, yet these represent artificial systems that often do not faithfully replicate / recapitulate the cellular, molecular, and hormonal environments of breast tumours in vivo. It is critical to have a better understanding of how androgens act in the normal mammary gland as well as in in vivo systems that maintain a relevant tumour microenvironment to gain insight into the role of androgens in modulating breast cancer development. This in turn will facilitate application of androgen-modulation therapy in breast cancer. Androgen receptor (AR) protein is primarily expressed by the hormone-sensing compartment of normal breast epithelium, commonly referred to as estrogen receptor-alpha (ERa) positive breast epithelial cells, which also express progesterone receptors (PR) and prolactin receptors and exert powerful developmental influences on adjacent breast epithelial cells. Recent lineage-tracing studies, particularly those focussed on NOTCH signalling, and genetic analysis of cancer risk in the normal breast, highlight how signalling via the hormone-sensing compartment can influence normal breast development and breast cancer susceptibility. This provides an impetus to focus on the relationship between androgens, AR and NOTCH signalling and the cross-talk between ERa and PR signalling in the hormone-sensing component of breast epithelium in order to unravel the mechanisms behind the ability of androgens to modulate breast cancer initiation and growth.
Full-text · Article · Jul 2014 · Endocrine Related Cancer
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Kit ligand (KITL) is an important granulosa cell-derived growth factor in ovarian folliculogenesis, but its expression and function in human granulosa cells are currently poorly understood. Based on studies performed in animal models, it was hypothesised that KITL gene expression in human granulosa cells is regulated by androgens and/or growth differentiation factor 9 (GDF9). We utilised two models of human granulosa cells, the KGN granulosa tumour cell line and cumulus granulosa cells obtained from preovulatory follicles of women undergoing assisted reproduction. Cells were treated with combinations of 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT), recombinant mouse GDF9, and the ALK4/5/7 inhibitor SB431542. KITL mRNA levels were measured by quantitative real-time PCR. No change in KITL mRNA expression was observed after DHT treatment under any experimental conditions, but GDF9 treatment resulted in a significant decrease in KITL mRNA levels in both KGN and cumulus cells. The effect of GDF9 was abolished by the addition of SB431542. These results indicate that KITL is not directly regulated by androgen signalling in human granulosa cells. Moreover, this study provides the first evidence that GDF9 negatively regulates KITL gene expression in human granulosa cells providing new information on the regulation of these important growth factors in the human ovary.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: While the clinical benefit of androgen-based therapeutics in breast cancer has been known since the 1940s, we have only recently begun to fully understand the mechanisms of androgen action in breast cancer. Androgen signalling pathways can have either beneficial or deleterious effects in breast cancer depending on the breast cancer subtype and intracellular context. This review discusses our current knowledge of androgen signalling in breast cancer, including the relationship between serum androgens and breast cancer risk, the prognostic significance of androgen receptor (AR) expression in different breast cancer subtypes and the downstream molecular pathways mediating androgen action in breast cancer cells. Intracrine androgen metabolism is also discussed, and proposed as a potential mechanism that may explain some of the reported differences regarding dichotomous androgen actions in breast cancers. A better understanding of AR signalling in this disease is critical given the current resurgence in interest in utilising contemporary AR directed therapies for breast cancer and the need for biomarkers that will accurately predict clinical response.
Preview · Article · Jun 2014 · Endocrine Related Cancer
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The androgen receptor (AR) is widely expressed in human tissues and has biological function in many male and female organs. In particular, the AR plays a critical role in the biology and pathology of the prostate gland. AR activity inhibits breast growth and has pleiotropic actions in breast cancer that are subtype-dependent. Expression of AR splice variants (ARVs) and their role in prostate carcinogenesis has been elucidated in recent studies. We hypothesised that ARVs are also expressed in breast cancers and other hormone sensitive tissues. Herein, the expression of five previously identified ARV transcripts with documented transcriptional capacity (AR-V1, -V3, -V4, -V7, and -V9) was examined in 6 breast (MFM223, MDA-MB-453, MDA-MB-231, ZR75.1, MCF-7, T47D), two prostate (VCaP, LNCaP), and one liver (HepG2) cancer cell lines, a human embryonic kidney cell line (HEK293), and a panel of RNAs representing 21 different human tissues. Four ARVs (V1, V3, V7, V9) were detected to some degree in almost all cell lines and tissues. In addition, four novel ARVs containing a cryptic exon 9 (CE9) were detected in MDA-MB-453 and VCaP cells. Sequencing of ARV amplicons revealed a single nucleotide substitution within CE3 in lung and placental tissue samples that could be translated as an Ile (ATT)>Val (GTT) substitution in the AR-V7 variant protein. Collectively, these data provides insight into the potential complexity of AR transcriptional splicing events in breast cancer cell lines and diverse human tissues, thereby establishing a rationale for further exploration of ARVs in breast cancer and other human pathologies.
No preview · Article · Feb 2014 · Hormones and Cancer
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) continues to pose a significant clinical challenge with new generation second-line hormonal therapies affording limited improvement in disease outcome. As the androgen receptor (AR) remains a critical driver in CRPC, understanding the determinants of its transcriptional activity is important for developing new AR-targeted therapies. FOXA1 is a key component of the AR transcriptional complex yet its role in prostate cancer progression and the relationship between AR and FOXA1 are not completely resolved. It is well established that FOXA1 levels are elevated in advanced prostate cancer and metastases. We mimicked these conditions by overexpressing FOXA1 in the androgen-responsive LNCaP prostate cancer cell line and observed a significant increase in AR genomic binding at novel regions that possess increased chromatin accessibility. High levels of FOXA1 resulted in increased proliferation at both sub-optimal and high 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) concentrations. Immunohistochemical staining for FOXA1 in a clinical prostate cancer cohort revealed that high FOXA1 expression is associated with shorter time to biochemical recurrence after radical prostatectomy (hazard ratio (HR) 5.0, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.2-21.1, P=0.028), positive surgical margins and higher stage disease at diagnosis. The gene expression program that results from FOXA1 overexpression is enriched for PTEN, Wnt and other pathways typically represented in CRPC gene signatures. Together, these results suggest that in an androgen-depleted state, elevated levels of FOXA1 enhance AR binding at genomic regions not normally occupied by AR, which in turn facilitates prostate cancer cell growth.Oncogene advance online publication, 2 December 2013; doi:10.1038/onc.2013.508.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Small glutamine-rich tetratricopeptide repeat-containing protein α (SGTA) is a steroid receptor molecular co-chaperone that may substantially influence hormone action and, consequently, hormone-mediated carcinogenesis. To date, published studies describe SGTA as a protein that is potentially critical in a range of biological processes, including viral infection, cell division, mitosis, and cell cycle checkpoint activation. SGTA interacts with the molecular chaperones, heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) and HSP90, and with steroid receptor complexes, including those containing the androgen receptor. Steroid receptors are critical for maintaining cell growth and differentiation in hormonally regulated tissues, such as male and female reproductive tissues, and also play a role in disease states involving these tissues. There is growing evidence that, through its interactions with chaperones and steroid receptors, SGTA may be a key player in the pathogenesis of hormonally influenced disease states, including prostate cancer and polycystic ovary syndrome. Research into the function of SGTA has been conducted in several model organisms and cell types, with these studies showing that SGTA functionality is cell-specific and tissue-specific. However, very few studies have been replicated in multiple cell types or experimental systems. Although a broad range of functions have been attributed to SGTA, there is a serious lack of mechanistic information to describe how SGTA acts. In this review, published evidence linking SGTA with hormonally regulated disease states is summarized and discussed, highlighting the need for future research to more clearly define the biological function(s) of this potentially important co-chaperone.
Full-text · Article · Jul 2013 · Hormones and Cancer
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Objective:
Medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), a component of combined estrogen-progestin therapy (EPT), has been associated with increased breast cancer risk in EPT users. MPA can bind to the androgen receptor (AR), and AR signaling inhibits cell growth in breast tissues. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the potential of MPA to disrupt AR signaling in an ex vivo culture model of normal human breast tissue.
Histologically normal breast tissues from women undergoing breast surgical operation were cultured in the presence or in the absence of the native AR ligand 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT), MPA, or the AR antagonist bicalutamide. Ki67, bromodeoxyuridine, B-cell CLL/lymphoma 2 (BCL2), AR, estrogen receptor α, and progesterone receptor were detected by immunohistochemistry.
DHT inhibited the proliferation of breast epithelial cells in an AR-dependent manner within tissues from postmenopausal women, and MPA significantly antagonized this androgenic effect. These hormonal responses were not commonly observed in cultured tissues from premenopausal women. In tissues from postmenopausal women, DHT either induced or repressed BCL2 expression, and the antiandrogenic effect of MPA on BCL2 was variable. MPA significantly opposed the positive effect of DHT on AR stabilization, but these hormones had no significant effect on estrogen receptor α or progesterone receptor levels.
In a subset of postmenopausal women, MPA exerts an antiandrogenic effect on breast epithelial cells that is associated with increased proliferation and destabilization of AR protein. This activity may contribute mechanistically to the increased risk of breast cancer in women taking MPA-containing EPT.
No preview · Article · May 2013 · Menopause (New York, N.Y.)
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The androgen receptor (AR) is expressed in a majority of ovarian carcinomas, but its role in disease development remains unclear. In this study, AR and a novel AR molecular chaperone called small glutamine-rich tetratricopeptide repeat-containing protein alpha (SGTA) were investigated to assess their potential role in ovarian carcinogenesis. First, an AR and SGTA-positive ovarian cancer cell line was identified to examine whether SGTA influenced AR subcellular localization. Next, relative protein levels of AR and SGTA were measured in two sets of clinical samples: (1) 46 serous ovarian carcinomas (stages I-IV), 9 serous borderline tumors, and 11 benign ovarian tumors; and (2) 24 patient-matched stage III primary and metastatic serous ovarian tumors. Ablation of SGTA protein in OVCAR3 cells significantly increased AR nuclear localization under basal (p ≤ 0.001) and androgen-stimulated (p ≤ 0.001) conditions. In the first clinical set, AR levels were significantly lower in early- (I/II) and late-stage (III/IV) cancers compared with benign (p ≤ 0.001) but not borderline ovarian tumors. SGTA alone did not discriminate between groups but the AR/SGTA ratio was significantly lower in carcinomas and borderline tumors compared with benign tumors (p ≤ 0.001 and 0.015, respectively). In the second clinical set, matched primary and metastatic serous ovarian cancers did not significantly differ for any parameter measured. Collectively, our results suggest that SGTA can influence AR signaling in ovarian cancer cells and that AR signaling capacity may be reduced with the development but not metastatic progression of serous ovarian cancer.
No preview · Article · Feb 2013 · Hormones and Cancer
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the expression and function of small glutamine-rich tetratricopeptide repeat-containing protein alpha (SGTA), an androgen receptor (AR) molecular chaperone, in human ovarian tissues. DESIGN: Examine the effect of SGTA on AR subcellular localization in granulosa tumor cells (KGN) and SGTA expression in ovarian tissues. SETTING: University-based research laboratory. PATIENT(S): Archived tissues from premenopausal women and granulosa cells from infertile women receiving assisted reproduction. INTERVENTION(S): None. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE(S): AR subcellular localization and SGTA protein or mRNA levels. RESULT(S): SGTA and AR proteins were expressed in the cytoplasm of KGN cells and exposure to androgen stimulated AR nuclear localization. SGTA protein knockdown increased AR nuclear localization at low (0-0.1 nmol/L) but not high (1-10 nmol/L) concentrations of androgen hormone. In ovarian tissues, SGTA was localized to the cytoplasm of granulosa cells at all stages of folliculogenesis and in thecal cells of antral follicles. SGTA protein levels were similar when comparing primordial and primary follicles within core biopsies (n = 40) from women with and without polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Likewise, SGTA mRNA levels were not significantly different in granulosa cells from preovulatory follicles after hyperstimulation of women with and without PCOS. CONCLUSION(S): SGTA is present in human ovaries and has the potential to modulate AR signalling, but it may not be differentially expressed in PCOS.
No preview · Article · Feb 2013 · Fertility and sterility
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: To model the heterogeneity of breast cancer as observed in the clinic, we employed an ex vivo model of breast tumor tissue. This methodology maintained the histological integrity of the tumor tissue in unselected breast cancers, and importantly, the explants retained key molecular markers that are currently used to guide breast cancer treatment (e.g., ER and Her2 status). The primary tumors displayed the expected wide range of positivity for the proliferation marker Ki67, and a strong positive correlation between the Ki67 indices of the primary and corresponding explanted tumor tissues was observed. Collectively, these findings indicate that multiple facets of tumor pathophysiology are recapitulated in this ex vivo model. To interrogate the potential of this preclinical model to inform determinants of therapeutic response, we investigated the cytostatic response to the CDK4/6 inhibitor, PD-0332991. This inhibitor was highly effective at suppressing proliferation in approximately 85% of cases, irrespective of ER or HER2 status. However, 15% of cases were completely resistant to PD-0332991. Marker analyses in both the primary tumor tissue and the corresponding explant revealed that cases resistant to CDK4/6 inhibition lacked the RB-tumor suppressor. These studies provide important insights into the spectrum of breast tumors that could be treated with CDK4/6 inhibitors, and defines functional determinants of response analogous to those identified through neoadjuvant studies.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Androgen receptor (AR) signaling exerts an antiestrogenic, growth-inhibitory influence in normal breast tissue, and this role may be sustained in estrogen receptor α (ERα)-positive luminal breast cancers. Conversely, AR signaling may promote growth of a subset of ERα-negative, AR-positive breast cancers with a molecular apocrine phenotype. Understanding the molecular mechanisms whereby androgens can elicit distinct gene expression programs and opposing proliferative responses in these two breast cancer phenotypes is critical to the development of new therapeutic strategies to target the AR in breast cancer.
No preview · Article · Jun 2012 · Molecular Endocrinology
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Recent evidence indicates that the estrogen receptor-α-negative, androgen receptor (AR)-positive molecular apocrine subtype of breast cancer is driven by AR signaling. The MDA-MB-453 cell line is the prototypical model of this breast cancer subtype; its proliferation is stimulated by androgens such as 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) but inhibited by the progestin medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) via AR-mediated mechanisms. We report here that the AR gene in MDA-MB-453 cells contains a G-T transversion in exon 7, resulting in a receptor variant with a glutamine to histidine substitution at amino acid 865 (Q865H) in the ligand binding domain. Compared with wild-type AR, the Q865H variant exhibited reduced sensitivity to DHT and MPA in transactivation assays in MDA-MB-453 and PC-3 cells but did not respond to non-androgenic ligands or receptor antagonists. Ligand binding, molecular modeling, mammalian two-hybrid and immunoblot assays revealed effects of the Q865H mutation on ligand dissociation, AR intramolecular interactions, and receptor stability. Microarray expression profiling demonstrated that DHT and MPA regulate distinct transcriptional programs in MDA-MB-453 cells. Gene Set Enrichment Analysis revealed that DHT- but not MPA-regulated genes were associated with estrogen-responsive transcriptomes from MCF-7 cells and the Wnt signaling pathway. These findings suggest that the divergent proliferative responses of MDA-MB-453 cells to DHT and MPA result from the different genetic programs elicited by these two ligands through the AR-Q865H variant. This work highlights the necessity to characterize additional models of molecular apocrine breast cancer to determine the precise role of AR signaling in this breast cancer subtype.
Full-text · Article · Jun 2012 · Endocrine Related Cancer
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The measurement of serum testosterone in women is challenging due to lack of trueness, precision, and sensitivity of various available testosterone assays. Accurate assessment of testosterone in women is crucial especially in conditions associated with alleged over- or under-production of testosterone, such as in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or primary ovarian insufficiency (POI). The aim of this study was to measure and compare androgen concentrations in women with PCOS, POI, and female controls and to evaluate the performance of extraction RIA and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) in these women.
Carefully phenotyped women with POI (n=208) or PCOS (n=200) and 45 healthy, regularly cyclic female controls were included. Method comparison analyses were performed for total testosterone, androstenedione (AD), and DHEA, as measured by LC-MS/MS and extraction RIA.
All androgen levels were significantly elevated in women with PCOS compared with POI patients (P<0.05) and controls (P<0.05). Women with POI presented with similar androgen concentrations as controls, except for AD. Compared with measurements by extraction RIA, testosterone, DHEA, and AD concentrations measured by LC-MS/MS were systematically lower. However, using extraction RIA and LC-MS/MS, testosterone, DHEA, and AD measurements were shown to have good agreement as assessed by Bland-Altman analysis and intraclass correlation coefficient: 0.95 (95% confidence interval 0.94-0.91), 0.83 (0.79-0.86), and 0.96 (0.95-0.97) respectively.
LC-MS/MS, compared with a labor-intensive extraction RIA, shows good precision, sensitivity, and high accuracy for measuring female testosterone, DHEA, and AD concentrations under various clinical conditions. LC-MS/MS, therefore, represents a convenient and reliable assay for both clinical and research purposes, where androgen measurement in women is required.
Full-text · Article · Dec 2011 · European Journal of Endocrinology
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: FOXA transcription factors are potent, context-specific mediators of development that hold specialized functions in hormone-dependent tissues. Over the last several years, FOXA1 has emerged as a critical mediator of nuclear steroid receptor signalling, manifest at least in part through regulation of androgen receptor and oestrogen receptor activity. Recent findings point towards a major role for FOXA1 in modulating nuclear steroid receptor activity in breast and prostate cancer, and suggest that FOXA1 may significantly contribute to pro-tumourigenic phenotypes. The present review article will focus on the mechanisms, consequence, and clinical relevance of FOXA1-mediated steroid nuclear receptor signalling in human malignancy.