Crosstalk between estrogen receptor and growth factor receptor pathways as a cause for endocrine therapy resistance in breast cancer

Clin Cancer Res. 2005 Jan 15;11(2 Pt 2):865s-70s.


Data suggest that breast cancer growth is regulated by coordinated actions of the estrogen receptor (ER) and various growth factor receptor signaling pathways. In tumors with active growth factor receptor signaling (e.g., HER2 amplification), tamoxifen may lose its estrogen antagonist activity and may acquire more agonist-like activity, resulting in tumor growth stimulation. Because treatments designed to deprive the ER of its ligand estrogen will reduce signaling from both nuclear and membrane ER, aromatase inhibitors might be expected to be superior to tamoxifen in tumors with high growth factor receptor content, such as those overexpressing HER2. Recent clinical studies suggest that this is the case in humans, as trials of aromatase inhibitors show superior results compared with tamoxifen, especially in tumors overexpressing HER2. Although estrogen deprivation therapy is often effective in ER-positive breast cancer, de novo and acquired resistance are still problematic. Experimental models suggest that in one form of resistance to estrogen deprivation therapy, the tumor becomes supersensitive to low residual estrogen concentrations perhaps because of activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase. Such tumors respond to additional treatment with fulvestrant or even tamoxifen. On the other hand, in tumors overexpressing HER2, acquired resistance to estrogen deprivation therapy involves the loss of ER and ER-regulated genes and further up-regulation of growth factor signaling rendering the tumor hormonal therapy resistant. This process can be delayed or reversed by simultaneous treatment with growth factor pathway inhibitors. This strategy is now being tested in clinical trials.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Receptor Cross-Talk / physiology*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Growth Factor / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Growth Factor