Inhibition of mTOR activity restores tamoxifen response in breast cancer cells with aberrant Akt Activity

Clin Cancer Res. 2004 Dec 1;10(23):8059-67. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-04-0035.


The Akt kinase is a serine/threonine protein kinase that has been implicated in mediating a variety of biological responses. Studies show that high Akt activity in breast carcinoma is associated with a poor pathophenotype, as well as hormone and chemotherapy resistance. Additionally, high Akt activity is associated with other features of poor prognosis. Thus, a chemotherapeutic agent directed specifically toward tumors with high Akt activity could prove extremely potent in treating those breast tumors with the most aggressive phenotypes. Several studies have demonstrated that rapamycin, which inhibits mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), a downstream target of Akt, sensitizes certain resistant cancer cells to chemotherapeutic agents. This study evaluated the efficacy of mTOR inhibition in the treatment of tamoxifen-resistant breast carcinoma characterized by high Akt activity. We found that MCF-7 breast cancer cell lines expressing a constitutively active Akt are able to proliferate under reduced estrogen conditions and are resistant to the growth inhibitory effects of tamoxifen, both in vitro as well as in vivo in xenograft models. Cotreatment with the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin in vitro, or the ester of rapamycin, CCI-779 (Wyeth) in vivo, inhibited mTOR activity and restored sensitivity to tamoxifen, suggesting that Akt-induced tamoxifen resistance is mediated in part by signaling through the mTOR pathway. Although the mechanism underlying the synergism remains to be understood, the results were associated with rapamycin's ability to block transcriptional activity mediated by estrogen receptor alpha, as assessed by reporter gene assays with estrogen-responsive element luciferase. These data corroborate prior findings indicating that Akt activation induces resistance to tamoxifen in breast cancer cells. Importantly, these data indicate a novel mechanism for tamoxifen resistance and suggest that blockage of the phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase/Akt signaling pathway by mTOR inhibition effectively restores the susceptibility of these cells to tamoxifen. These data may have implication for future clinical studies of mTOR inhibition in breast carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Protein Kinases / chemistry*
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Sirolimus / analogs & derivatives*
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology*
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Transplantation, Heterologous
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Tamoxifen
  • temsirolimus
  • Protein Kinases
  • MTOR protein, human
  • mTOR protein, mouse
  • AKT1 protein, human
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Sirolimus