Resistance to tamoxifen-induced apoptosis is associated with direct interaction between Her2/neu and cell membrane estrogen receptor in breast cancer

Int J Cancer. 2002 Jan 20;97(3):306-12. doi: 10.1002/ijc.1614.


Overexpression of Her2/neu is implicated in the development of resistance to the antiestrogen tamoxifen (TAM) that exerts its inhibitory effect through interaction with estrogen receptor (ER). Whereas Her2/neu and ER are believed to be important cell survival/death factors in human breast cancer cells, if and how they interact to confer resistance to hormone therapy is not known. This prompted us to investigate whether modulation of the effect of TAM occurs via the Her2/neu pathway and whether targeting the interaction between the Her2/neu pathway and the ER pathway is beneficial. There are 2 forms of ER that are localized to the cell membrane and to the nucleus. For the first time, we found that Her2/neu directly interacts with ER at the cell membrane. We then investigated the role of Her2/neu overexpression in the regulation of the cell membrane ER pathway in TAM-resistant breast cancer cells and the nature of this interaction in apoptotic signaling. Relief of TAM resistance was associated with Her2/neu downregulation and ER upregulation. TAM-induced apoptosis occurred immediately after dissociation of Her2/neu from cell membrane ER. These results demonstrate a novel mechanism by which Her2/neu regulates the cell membrane ER-coupled apoptosis and the possible involvement of the Her2/neu in TAM resistance of breast cancer cells. Moreover, the antiproliferative activity of TAM should rely on the integration between the signal transduction from the cell membrane ER and the gene regulation by the nuclear ER. Coordinated modulation on the cell membrane ER/Her2/neu pathway and the nuclear ER/RAR pathway may provide a new approach for treatment of ER-positive, Her2/neu overexpressing breast cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Cell Separation
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • DNA Fragmentation
  • Down-Regulation
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Phenylbutyrates / pharmacology
  • Precipitin Tests
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / metabolism
  • Subcellular Fractions / metabolism
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology*
  • Time Factors
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Phenylbutyrates
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid
  • Tamoxifen
  • Tretinoin
  • 4-phenylbutyric acid
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases