Breast cancer: from estrogen to androgen receptor

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2002 Jul 31;193(1-2):121-8. doi: 10.1016/s0303-7207(02)00105-3.


To investigate the link existing between androgens and human breast cancer, the hormonal milieu present in pre- and post-menopausal women has been translated in an in vitro model utilizing a hormone dependent breast cancer cell line MCF-7 exposed to DHEA, DHEAS, androstenediol, T, DHT with or w/o E(2). DHEAS and androstenediol stimulate the growth of MCF-7 cell line but reduce cell proliferation induced by E(2) (1 nM). T and DHT (1-100 nM) instead inhibit MCF-7 cell proliferation independently on E(2) presence. When we focused our study on the most powerful androgen, DHT alone (100 nM) consistently inhibits MCF-7 cell proliferation by 50% of the basal growth rate and counteracts E(2) proliferative action by 68%. These data correlate well with cell cycle analysis showing an enhanced number of cells in G(0)/G(1) phase after 6 days of DHT treatment. Upon prolonged DHT exposure, Western blotting analysis shows a markedly increased AR content, while immunohistochemistry indicates that it was mostly translocated into the nucleus. So we assumed that the enhanced activation of the AR might inhibit MCF-7 cells proliferation. This assumption is corroborated by the fact that the inhibitory effects induced by DHT on MCF-7 cell proliferation are abrogated in the presence of hydroxyflutamide. Therefore to better investigate the role of AR in inhibiting E(2) action at genomic level, MCF-7 cells were transiently cotransfected with the reporter plasmid XETL carrying firefly luciferase sequence under the control of an estrogen responsive element and the full length AR or with an AR carrying a mutation (Cis 574-->Arg 574) which abolishes its binding to DNA. The over-expression of the AR markedly decreases E(2) signalling which furthermore appears inhibited by simultaneous exposure to DHT but reversed by addition of hydroxyflutamide. The inhibitory effect was no longer noticeable when MCF-7 cells were cotransfected with XETL and the mutant AR. Taken together these data demonstrate that gonadal androgens antagonize MCF-7 proliferation induced by E(2). This seems to be related to the inhibitory effects of the over-expressed AR on E(2) genomic action.

MeSH terms

  • Androstenols / pharmacology
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Interactions
  • Estradiol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Postmenopause
  • Premenopause
  • Receptors, Androgen / analysis
  • Receptors, Androgen / genetics
  • Receptors, Androgen / physiology*
  • Transfection
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Androstenols
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Estradiol