A non-functional retinoblastoma tumor suppressor (RB) pathway in premenopausal breast cancer is associated with resistance to tamoxifen

Cell Cycle. 2011 Mar 15;10(6):956-62. doi: 10.4161/cc.10.6.15074. Epub 2011 Mar 15.


The retinoblastoma tumor suppressor (RB) is important for retaining cell cycle control and loss of RB function is commonly observed in various malignancies. Experimental and animal studies have shown that RB knockdown in ER+ (estrogen receptor) cell lines and xenografts leads to resistance to tamoxifen, indicating that RB-inactivation could be linked to impaired response to specific cancer treatments. To address this issue, we utilized a unique randomized trial including 500 premenopausal breast cancer patients receiving either two years of adjuvant tamoxifen treatment or no treatment after surgery, and defined the tamoxifen response in RB-subgroups. Non-functional RB tumors were defined by lack of concordance between RB-phosphorylation and proliferation, in comparison to RB-functional tumors displaying comparable RB-phosphorylation and proliferation. In the ER+ tumors harboring a functional RB pathway (N=204), patients benefited from adjuvant tamoxifen with fewer breast cancer recurrences (HR=0.53, 95% CI 0.34-0.81, P=0.003). In the small subgroup of ER+ and RB non-functional tumors there was no benefit of tamoxifen (HR=2.28, 95% CI 0.51-10.3, P=0.28). In a multivariate analysis, the interaction between status of the RB pathway and treatment was significant (P=0.010), validating that despite being a small subgroup of ER+ breast cancer, RB functional status appears to be linked to response to tamoxifen treatment. These findings are in line with earlier experimental data altogether suggesting that analyses of RB status in breast cancer have the potential to be one among other future predictive factors that needs to be analyzed in order to successfully identify patients that will benefit from tamoxifen treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Phosphorylation
  • Premenopause
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Recurrence
  • Retinoblastoma Protein / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Retinoblastoma Protein / genetics
  • Retinoblastoma Protein / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tamoxifen / therapeutic use*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Retinoblastoma Protein
  • Tamoxifen