Gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogue (GnRHa) therapy is an established method of androgen withdrawal in the treatment of prostate cancer. The present study investigated if the expression of prostate GnRH receptors (GnRHRs) might influence the response to GnRHa. GnRHR protein expression was first studied in a panel of prostate cancer cell lines. In androgen-dependent cells, GnRHR expression was unchanged following acute or chronic androgen withdrawal. In these cells, GnRHa significantly inhibited androgen-induced cell proliferation (p = 0.01). In contrast, GnRHa was unable to further suppress basal levels of cell proliferation induced by androgen withdrawal. In androgen-independent prostate cancer cells, variable levels of GnRHR expression were observed. In these cells, GnRHa treatment blocked cell proliferation (p = 0.001) and invasion (up to 70%) induced by fibroblast growth factor stimulation. Crucially, this effect was only evident in cells that expressed high levels of the GnRHR. GnRHa treatment also significantly inhibited the ability of these cells to recover from a cytotoxic insult (50% inhibition). The clinical significance of prostate GnRHR was tested by immunohistochemistry in a preliminary cohort of patients treated with GnRHa or surgical castration. There was no association between GnRHR expression and pathological grade, clinical stage, time to PSA nadir (p = 0.82) (n = 35) or progression to hormone refractory disease (p = 0.22) (n = 21), irrespective of the treatment method. GnRHa therapy in the presence of high GnRHR expression however, was found to be associated with longer disease-specific survival (mean survival 85 months, p = 0.002). In contrast, high GnRHR expression was not associated with survival among surgically castrated patients (mean survival 50 months, p = 0.7). Taken together, these data support the notion of a functional interaction between GnRHa and the GnRHR, which results in an anti-tumourigenic effect on prostate cancer cells. Findings from this report have direct implications for the use of GnRHR as a novel therapeutic target in hormone refractory prostate cancer.
Copyright 2005 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland