Aromatase inhibitors and xenograft studies

Steroids. 2011 Jul;76(8):730-5. doi: 10.1016/j.steroids.2011.02.033. Epub 2011 Mar 21.


Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) have become the front-line choice for treatment of ER+ breast cancer. Nevertheless, although patients are responsive initially, they may acquire resistance and become unresponsive to further treatment. In addition, approximately 25% of breast cancers do not express the estrogen receptor (ERα) and consequently, are innately resistant to endocrine therapy. We have investigated the mechanisms associated with this lack of treatment response using xenograft models. We found that in cells and tumors that acquired resistance to the AI letrozole therapy, expression of the ER was reduced whereas growth factor signally was enhanced, including a marked increase in HER2 expression. Treatment with trastuzumab (HER2 antibody) resulted in a significant down-regulation of HER2 and p-MAPK as well as restoration of ERα expression. Thus, when trastuzumab was added to letrozole treatment at the time of tumor progression, there was significantly prolonged tumor suppression compared to trastuzumab or letrozole alone. This suggests that inhibition of both HER2 and ERα signaling pathways are required for overcoming resistance and restoring treatment sensitivity. ER negative tumors are innately resistant to endocrine therapy. Repression of the ERα has been found to be due to epigenetic modifications such as increased methylation and histone deacetylation. We found that entinostat (ENT), a histone deacetylase inhibitor (HDACi), activated not only expression of ERα but also aromatase in MDA-MB-231 ER-negative breast cancer cells, resulting in their ability to respond to estrogen and letrozole. Treatment with ENT in combination with letrozole significantly reduced tumor growth rate in xenografts compared to control tumors (p<0.001). ENT plus letrozole treatment also prevented the colonization and growth of MDA-MB-231 cells in the lung with a significant reduction (p<0.03) in both visible and microscopic foci. These results provide a strong indication for possible use of AIs in combination with HDAC inhibitors for the treatment of ER-negative breast cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols*
  • Aromatase / genetics
  • Aromatase / metabolism*
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Benzamides / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Letrozole
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / metabolism
  • Nitriles / therapeutic use
  • Phosphorylation
  • Pyridines / therapeutic use
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / genetics
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Trastuzumab
  • Triazoles / therapeutic use
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Benzamides
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Nitriles
  • Pyridines
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Triazoles
  • entinostat
  • Letrozole
  • Aromatase
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases
  • Trastuzumab