Vitamin D and androgen receptor-targeted therapy for triple-negative breast cancer

A. Thakkar, B. Wang, M. Picon-Ruiz, P. Buchwald, Tan A. Ince

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Anti-estrogen and anti-HER2 treatments have been among the first and most successful examples of targeted therapy for breast cancer (BC). However, the treatment of triple-negative BC (TNBC) that lack estrogen receptor expression or HER2 amplification remains a major challenge. We previously discovered that approximately two-thirds of TNBCs express vitamin D receptor (VDR) and/or androgen receptor (AR) and hypothesized that TNBCs co-expressing AR and VDR (HR2-av TNBC) could be treated by targeting both of these hormone receptors. To evaluate the feasibility of VDR/AR-targeted therapy in TNBC, we characterized 15 different BC lines and identified 2 HR2-av TNBC lines and examined the changes in their phenotype, viability, and proliferation after VDR and AR-targeted treatment. Treatment of BC cell lines with VDR or AR agonists inhibited cell viability in a receptor-dependent manner, and their combination appeared to inhibit cell viability additively. Moreover, cell viability was further decreased when AR/VDR agonist hormones were combined with chemotherapeutic drugs. The mechanisms of inhibition by AR/VDR agonist hormones included cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in TNBC cell lines. In addition, AR/VDR agonist hormones induced differentiation and inhibited cancer stem cells (CSCs) measured by reduction in tumorsphere formation efficiency, high aldehyde dehydrogenase activity, and CSC markers. Surprisingly, we found that AR antagonists inhibited proliferation of most BC cell lines in an AR-independent manner, raising questions regarding their mechanism of action. In summary, AR/VDR-targeted agonist hormone therapy can inhibit HR2-av TNBC through multiple mechanisms in a receptor-dependent manner and can be combined with chemotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-90
Number of pages14
JournalBreast cancer research and treatment
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2016


  • Androgen receptor
  • Cancer stem cells
  • Hormone receptor
  • Triple-negative breast cancer
  • Vitamin D receptor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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