Acquired resistance to tamoxifen is associated with loss of the type I insulin-like growth factor receptor: implications for breast cancer treatment

Cancer Res. 2012 Jul 1;72(13):3372-80. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-12-0684. Epub 2012 May 9.


The role of the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system in breast cancer is well defined, and inhibitors of this pathway are currently in clinical trials. The majority of anti-IGF1R clinical trials are in estrogen receptor-positive patients who have progressed on prior endocrine therapy; early reports show no benefit for addition of IGF1R inhibitors to endocrine therapy in this setting. In this study, we examined the effectiveness of IGF1R inhibitors in vitro by generating tamoxifen-resistant (TamR) cells. We found that TamR cells had diminished levels of IGF1R with unchanged levels of insulin receptor (IR), and failed to respond to IGF-I-induced Akt activation, proliferation, and anchorage-independent growth while retaining responsiveness to both insulin and IGF-II. The IGF1R antibody dalotuzumab inhibited IGF-I-mediated Akt phosphorylation, proliferation, and anchorage-independent growth in parental cells, but had no effect on TamR cells. An IGF1R tyrosine kinase inhibitor, AEW541, with equal potency for the IGF1R and IR, inhibited IGF-I-, IGF-II-, and insulin-stimulated Akt phosphorylation, proliferation, and anchorage-independent growth in parental cells. Interestingly, AEW541 also inhibited insulin- and IGF-II-stimulated effects in TamR cells. Tamoxifen-treated xenografts also had reduced levels of IGF1R, and dalotuzumab did not enhance the effect of tamoxifen. We conclude that cells selected for tamoxifen resistance in vitro have downregulated IGF1R making antibodies directed against this receptor ineffective. Inhibition of IR may be necessary to manage tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Adhesion / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Humans
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Receptor, IGF Type 1 / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Tamoxifen / therapeutic use*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Tamoxifen
  • dalotuzumab
  • Receptor, IGF Type 1