Glucose-regulated protein 78 controls cross-talk between apoptosis and autophagy to determine antiestrogen responsiveness

Cancer Res. 2012 Jul 1;72(13):3337-49. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-12-0269.


While more than 70% of breast cancers express estrogen receptor-α (ER+), endocrine therapies targeting these receptors often fail. The molecular mechanisms that underlie treatment resistance remain unclear. We investigated the potential role of glucose-regulated protein 78 (GRP78) in mediating estrogen resistance. Human breast tumors showed increased GRP78 expression when compared with normal breast tissues. However, GRP78 expression was reduced in ER+ breast tumors compared with HER2-amplifed or triple-negative breast tumors. ER+ antiestrogen-resistant cells and ER+ tumors with an acquired resistant antiestrogen phenotype were both shown to overexpress GRP78, which was not observed in cases of de novo resistance. Knockdown of GRP78 restored antiestrogen sensitivity in resistant cells, and overexpression of GRP78 promoted resistance in sensitive cells. Mechanistically, GRP78 integrated multiple cellular signaling pathways to inhibit apoptosis and stimulate prosurvival autophagy, which was dependent on TSC2/AMPK-mediated mTOR inhibition but not on beclin-1. Inhibition of autophagy prevented GRP78-mediated endocrine resistance, whereas caspase inhibition abrogated the resensitization that resulted from GRP78 loss. Simultaneous knockdown of GRP78 and beclin-1 synergistically restored antiestrogen sensitivity in resistant cells. Together, our findings reveal a novel role for GRP78 in the integration of cellular signaling pathways including the unfolded protein response, apoptosis, and autophagy to determine cell fate in response to antiestrogen therapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Autophagy*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Chaperone BiP
  • Estrogen Receptor Modulators / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Chaperone BiP
  • Estrogen Receptor Modulators
  • HSPA5 protein, human
  • Heat-Shock Proteins