X-box binding protein 1 (XBP-1) is stimulated by endoplasmic reticulum stress as part of the unfolded protein response (UPR), which can promote apoptosis or cell survival. Non-conventional splicing, stimulated during the UPR, converts mRNA for "unspliced" XBP-1U to "spliced" XBP-1S mRNA. XBP-1 mRNA is oestrogen-responsive, but XBP-1S confers oestrogen independence and anti-oestrogen resistance to breast cancer cell lines. We therefore evaluated XBP-1 mRNA splicing as a factor in response of breast cancer patients to endocrine treatment. XBP-1 isoforms were measured by quantitative RT-PCR in 100 primary breast cancer patients treated with adjuvant tamoxifen (including 30 ER alpha-negative cases). In ER alpha-positive cases, levels of XBP-1U mRNA correlated with ER alpha mRNA levels and were lower in grade 3 tumors. Higher levels of XBP-1U mRNA were significantly associated with breast cancer survival (Log-rank p = 0.002; Cox hazard ratio (HR) 0.2, p = 0.005), independent of grade, size, nodal status and progesterone receptor status. However, in the full cohort, higher ratios of XBP-1S/XBP-1U mRNA (indicating enhanced splicing) were associated with poor survival (Log-rank p = 0.03; Cox HR 2.3, p = 0.03) and related factors: ER alpha-negative status, progesterone receptor negative status, grade 3 tumors and greater proliferation. Significant associations with poor outcome were also seen for XBP-1 splicing in ER alpha-positive cases. Our findings, that XBP-1 isoforms are differently associated with outcome of endocrine therapy for patients, can be explained by higher levels of dominant-negative XBP-1U favouring apoptosis of tumor cells and higher levels of XBP-1S increasing tumor survival.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.