High Gleason grade prostate carcinomas are aggressive, poorly differentiated tumors that exhibit diminished estrogen receptor beta (ERbeta) expression. We report that a key function of ERbeta and its specific ligand 5alpha-androstane-3beta,17beta-diol (3beta-adiol) is to maintain an epithelial phenotype and repress mesenchymal characteristics in prostate carcinoma. Stimuli (TGF-beta and hypoxia) that induce an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) diminish ERbeta expression, and loss of ERbeta is sufficient to promote an EMT. The mechanism involves ERbeta-mediated destabilization of HIF-1alpha and transcriptional repression of VEGF-A. The VEGF-A receptor neuropilin-1 drives the EMT by promoting Snail1 nuclear localization. Importantly, this mechanism is manifested in high Gleason grade cancers, which exhibit significantly more HIF-1alpha and VEGF expression, and Snail1 nuclear localization compared to low Gleason grade cancers.
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