Both estrogen (E) and progesterone (P) are implicated in the etiology of human breast cancer. Defining their mechanisms of action, particularly in vivo, is relevant to the prevention and therapy of breast cancer. We investigated the molecular and cellular mechanisms of E and/or P-induced in vivo proliferation, in the normal rat mammary gland and in hormone-dependent rat mammary cancers which share many characteristics with the normal human breast and hormone-dependent breast cancers. We show that E+P treatment induced significantly greater proliferation in both the normal gland and mammary cancers compared to E alone. In both the normal gland and tumors, E+P-induced proliferation was mediated through the increased production of amphiregulin (Areg), an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) ligand, and the activation of intracellular signaling pathways (Erk, Akt, JNK) downstream of EGFR that regulate proliferation. In vitro experiments using rat primary mammary organoids or T47D breast cancer cells confirmed that Areg and the synthetic progestin, R5020, synergize to promote cell proliferation through EGFR signaling. Iressa, an EGFR inhibitor, effectively blocked this proliferation. These results indicate that mediators of cross talk between E, P, and EGFR pathways may be considered as relevant molecular targets for the therapy of hormone-dependent breast cancers, especially in premenopausal women.
© The Author(s) 2010. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com.