The NFkappaB Pathway and Endocrine-Resistant Breast Cancer

Endocr Relat Cancer. 2005 Jul;12 Suppl 1:S37-46. doi: 10.1677/erc.1.00977.


Endocrine therapy with an estrogen receptor (ER)-targeted antiestrogen, such as tamoxifen, or estrogen ablation by aromatase inhibitors is clinically indicated for the management of all forms of ER-positive breast cancer. However, 30-50% of ER-positive breast cancer cases fail to benefit clinically from endocrine therapy alone, and recent molecular evidence suggests that 'crosstalk' pathways originating from activated receptor tyrosine kinases and/or other proliferative and survival signals may be contributing to this endocrine resistance. Molecular identification and validation of candidate ER crosstalking pathways will likely lead to clinically important prognostic markers and targets for the application of novel therapeutics in combination with standard endocrine agents. This review focuses on a critical survival and proliferation pathway involving activation of nuclear factor-kappaB (NFkappaB), a family of ubiquitously expressed transcription factors that for nearly two decades have been known to be critical regulators of mammalian immune and inflammatory responses, and more recently have been associated with chemotherapy resistance. With the demonstration that activation of NFkappaB is absolutely required for normal mammary gland development, NFkappaB involvment in human breast cancers was initially explored and linked to the development of hormone-independent (ER-negative) breast cancer. Newer clinical evidence now implicates NFkappaB activation, particularly DNA-binding by the p50 subunit of NFkappaB, as a potential prognostic marker capable of identifying a high-risk subset of ER-positive, primary breast cancers destined for early relapse despite adjuvant endocrine therapy with tamoxifen. Furthermore, initial preclinical studies suggest that treatment strategies designed to prevent or interrupt activation of NFkappaB in cell-line models of these more aggressive, ER-positive breast cancers can restore their sensitivity to such standard endocrine agents as tamoxifen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • 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 / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • NF-kappa B / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / metabolism
  • Receptors, Estrogen / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • NF-kappa B
  • Receptors, Estrogen