Despite earlier detection and recent advances in surgery and radiation, prostate cancer is second only to lung cancer in male cancer deaths in the United States. Hormone therapy in the form of medical or surgical castration remains the mainstay of systemic treatment in prostate cancer. Over the last 15 years with the clinical use of prostate specific antigen (PSA), there has been a shift to using hormone therapy earlier in the disease course and for longer duration. Despite initial favorable response to hormone therapy, over a period of time these tumors will develop androgen-independence that results in death. The androgen receptor (AR) is central to the initiation and growth of prostate cancer and to its response to hormone therapy. Analyses have shown that AR continues to be expressed in androgen-independent tumors and AR signaling remains intact as demonstrated by the expression of the AR regulated gene, PSA. Androgen-independent prostate cancers have demonstrated a variety of AR alterations that are either not found in hormone naïve tumors or found at lower frequency. These changes include AR amplification, AR point mutation, and changes in expression of AR co-regulatory proteins. These AR changes result in a "super AR" that can respond to lower concentrations of androgens or to a wider variety of agonistic ligands. There is also mounting evidence that AR can be activated in a ligand independent fashion by compounds such as growth factors or cytokines working independently or in combination. These growth factors working through receptor tyrosine kinase pathways may promote AR activation and growth in low androgen environments. The clinical significance of these AR alterations in the development and progression of androgen-independent prostate cancer remains to be determined. Understanding the changes in AR signaling in the evolution of androgen-independent prostate cancer will be key to the development of more effective hormone therapy.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.