Molecular mechanisms of osteolytic bone metastases

Cancer. 2000 Jun 15;88(12 Suppl):2892-8. doi: 10.1002/1097-0142(20000615)88:12+<2892::aid-cncr2>;2-y.


Background: Breast carcinoma commonly metastasizes to the skeleton in patients with advanced disease to cause bone destruction and the associated pain, hypercalcemia, fracture, and nerve-compression syndromes. In this scenario, the bone destruction is mediated by the osteoclast. Tumor-produced parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP), a known stimulator of osteoclastic bone resorption, is a major mediator of the osteolytic process. Transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta), which is abundant in bone matrix and is released as a consequence of osteoclastic bone resorption, may promote breast carcinoma osteolysis by stimulating PTHrP production by tumor cells.

Methods: Stable breast carcinoma MDA-MB-231 cell lines were constructed that expressed mutant TGFbeta receptors, Smad proteins, or estrogen receptor (ER)-alpha and were used to determine the role of TGFbeta in modulating tumor production of PTHrP. These stable cell lines were applied to a mouse model of human breast carcinoma metastases to the bone to dissect the molecular mechanisms responsible for osteolytic bone metastases.

Results: TGFbeta promoted the development and progression of osteolytic bone metastases by inducing tumor production of PTHrP, the effect of which was mediated through the Smad signaling pathway. PTHrP stimulated osteoclastic bone resorption by increasing osteoblast production of the receptor activator of nuclear factor K B (RANK) ligand and decreasing osteoblast production of osteoprotegerin (OPG). A constitutively active ER-alpha mutation (Tyr537Asn), identified from a human bone metastases, when it was expressed in human breast carcinoma cells, caused increased production of PTHrP. TGFbeta significantly enhanced the ER-alpha-mediated transcriptional activity induced by ER-alpha (Tyr537Asn), and this resulted in further stimulation of PTHrP production.

Conclusions: These data indicate a central role for TGFbeta in the pathogenesis of osteolytic bone metastases from breast carcinoma by 1) the induction of PTHrP through the Smad signaling pathway and 2) the potentiation of ER-alpha-mediated transcription induced by a constitutively active ER-alpha. Understanding the mechanisms of osteolysis at a molecular level will generate more effective therapeutic agents for patients with this devastating complication of cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Bone Resorption / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Osteolysis / etiology*
  • Parathyroid Hormone-Related Protein
  • Proteins / physiology
  • Receptors, Estrogen / physiology
  • Smad2 Protein
  • Trans-Activators / physiology
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / physiology


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • PTHLH protein, human
  • Parathyroid Hormone-Related Protein
  • Proteins
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • SMAD2 protein, human
  • Smad2 Protein
  • Smad2 protein, mouse
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta