Epidermal growth factor regulates Mcl-1 expression through the MAPK-Elk-1 signalling pathway contributing to cell survival in breast cancer

Oncogene. 2011 May 19;30(20):2367-78. doi: 10.1038/onc.2010.616. Epub 2011 Jan 24.


Myeloid cell leukaemia-1 (Mcl-1) is an anti-apoptotic member of the Bcl-2 family that is elevated in a variety of tumour types including breast cancer. In breast tumours, increased Mcl-1 expression correlates with high tumour grade and poor patient survival. We have previously demonstrated that Her-2 levels correspond to increased Mcl-1 expression in breast tumours. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor signalling is frequently deregulated in breast cancer and leads to increased proliferation and survival. Herein, we determined the critical downstream signals responsible for the EGF mediated increase of Mcl-1 and their role in cell survival. We found that both Mcl-1 mRNA and protein levels are rapidly induced upon stimulation with EGF. Promoter analysis revealed that an Elk-1 transcription factor-binding site is critical for EGF activation of the Mcl-1 promoter. Furthermore, we found that knockdown of Elk-1 or inhibition of the Erk signalling pathway was sufficient to block EGF upregulation of Mcl-1 and EGF mediated cell survival. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation and biotin labelled probes of the Mcl-1 promoter, we found that Elk-1 and serum response factor are bound to the promoter after EGF stimulation. To determine whether Mcl-1 confers a survival advantage, we found that knockdown of Mcl-1 expression increased apoptosis whereas overexpression of Mcl-1 inhibited drug induced cell death. In human breast tumours, we found a correlation between phosphorylated Elk-1 and Mcl-1 protein levels. These results indicate that the EGF induced activation of Elk-1 is an important mediator of Mcl-1 expression and cell survival and therefore a potential therapeutic target in breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / metabolism
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Myeloid Cell Leukemia Sequence 1 Protein
  • Phosphorylation
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Serum Response Element
  • Signal Transduction
  • ets-Domain Protein Elk-1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • ets-Domain Protein Elk-1 / metabolism*


  • Myeloid Cell Leukemia Sequence 1 Protein
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • RNA, Messenger
  • ets-Domain Protein Elk-1
  • Epidermal Growth Factor
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases