The development, application and limitations of breast cancer cell lines to study tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitor resistance

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2012 Sep;131(3-5):83-92. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2011.12.005. Epub 2012 Jan 8.


Estrogen plays important roles in hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. Endocrine therapies, such as the antiestrogen tamoxifen, antagonize the binding of estrogen to estrogen receptor (ER), whereas aromatase inhibitors (AIs) directly inhibit the production of estrogen. Understanding the mechanisms of endocrine resistance and the ways in which we may better treat these types of resistance has been aided by the development of cellular models for resistant breast cancers. In this review, we will discuss what is known thus far regarding both de novo and acquired resistance to tamoxifen or AIs. Our laboratory has generated a collection of AI- and tamoxifen-resistant cell lines in order to comprehensively study the individual types of resistance mechanisms. Through the use of microarray analysis, we have determined that our cell lines resistant to a particular AI (anastrozole, letrozole, or exemestane) or tamoxifen are distinct from each other, indicating that these mechanisms can be quite complex. Furthermore, we will describe two novel de novo AI-resistant cell lines that were generated from our laboratory. Initial characterization of these cells reveals that they are distinct from our acquired AI-resistant cell models. In addition, we will review potential therapies which may be useful for overcoming resistant breast cancers through studies using endocrine resistant cell lines. Finally, we will discuss the benefits and shortcomings of cell models. Together, the information presented in this review will provide us a better understanding of acquired and de novo resistance to tamoxifen and AI therapies, the use of appropriate cell models to better study these types of breast cancer, which are valuable for identifying novel treatments and strategies for overcoming both tamoxifen and AI-resistant breast cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / pharmacology*
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators / pharmacology*
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology*
  • Translational Medical Research / methods*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators
  • Tamoxifen