Estrogen promotes estrogen receptor negative BRCA1-deficient tumor initiation and progression

Chuying Wang, Feng Bai, Li han Zhang, Alexandria Scott, Enxiao Li, Xin Hai Pei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Estrogen promotes breast cancer development and progression mainly through estrogen receptor (ER). However, blockage of estrogen production or action prevents development of and suppresses progression of ER-negative breast cancers. How estrogen promotes ER-negative breast cancer development and progression is poorly understood. We previously discovered that deletion of cell cycle inhibitors p16 Ink4a (p16) or p18 Ink4c (p18) is required for development of Brca1-deficient basal-like mammary tumors, and that mice lacking p18 develop luminal-type mammary tumors. Methods: A genetic model system with three mouse strains, one that develops ER-positive mammary tumors (p18 single deletion) and the others that develop ER-negative tumors (p16;Brca1 and p18;Brca1 compound deletion), human BRCA1 mutant breast cancer patient-derived xenografts, and human BRCA1-deficient and BRCA1-proficient breast cancer cells were used to determine the role of estrogen in activating epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), stimulating cell proliferation, and promoting ER-negative mammary tumor initiation and metastasis. Results: Estrogen stimulated the proliferation and tumor-initiating potential of both ER-positive Brca1-proficient and ER-negative Brca1-deficient tumor cells. Estrogen activated EMT in a subset of Brca1-deficient mammary tumor cells that maintained epithelial features, and enhanced the number of cancer stem cells, promoting tumor progression and metastasis. Estrogen activated EMT independent of ER in Brca1-deficient, but not Brca1-proficient, tumor cells. Estrogen activated the AKT pathway in BRCA1-deficient tumor cells independent of ER, and pharmaceutical inhibition of AKT activity suppressed EMT and cell proliferation preventing BRCA1 deficient tumor progression. Conclusions: This study reveals for the first time that estrogen promotes BRCA1-deficient tumor initiation and progression by stimulation of cell proliferation and activation of EMT, which are dependent on AKT activation and independent of ER.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number74
JournalBreast Cancer Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 11 2018


  • BRCA1
  • Cancer stem cells
  • EMT
  • Estrogen
  • Estrogen receptor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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