Models and Mechanisms of Acquired Antihormone Resistance in Breast Cancer: Significant Clinical Progress Despite Limitations

Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2012 Feb;9(2):143-163. doi: 10.1515/hmbci-2011-0004.


Translational research for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer depends upon the four Ms: models, molecules, and mechanisms in order to create medicines. The process, to target the estrogen receptor (ER) in estrogen-dependent breast cancer, has yielded significant advances in patient survivorship and the first approved medicines (tamoxifen and raloxifene) to reduce the incidence of any cancer in high- or low-risk women. This review focuses on the critical role of the few ER-positive cell lines (MCF-7, T47D, BT474, ZR-75) that continue to advance our understanding of the estrogen-regulated biology of breast cancer. More importantly, the model cell lines have provided an opportunity to document the development and evolution of acquired antihormone resistance. The description of this evolutionary process that occurs in micrometastatic disease during up to a decade of adjuvant therapy would not be possible in the patient. The use of the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line in particular has been instrumental in discovering a vulnerability of ER-positive breast cancer exhaustively treated with antihormone therapy. Physiologic estradiol acts as an apoptotic trigger to cause tumor regression. These unanticipated findings in the laboratory have translated to clinical advances in our knowledge of the paradoxical role of estrogen in the life and death of breast cancer.