Background: Long-term estrogen deprivation models are widely employed in an in vitro setting to recapitulate the hormonal milieu of breast cancer patients treated with endocrine therapy. Despite the wealth information we have garnered from these models thus far, a comprehensive time-course analysis of the estrogen (ER), progesterone (PR), and human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER-2/neu) receptors on the gene and protein level, coupled with expression array data is currently lacking. We aimed to address this knowledge gap in order to enhance our understanding of endocrine therapy resistance in breast cancer patients.
Methods: ER positive MCF7 and BT474 breast cancer cells were grown in estrogen depleted medium for 10 months with the ER negative MDA-MB-231 cell line employed as control. ER, PR and HER-2/neu expression were analysed at defined short and long-term time points by immunocytochemistry (ICC), and quantitative real-time RT-PCR (qRT-PCR). Microarray analysis was performed on representative samples.
Results: MCF7 cells cultured in estrogen depleted medium displayed decreasing expression of ER up to 8 weeks, which was then re-expressed at 10 months. PR was also down-regulated at early time points and remained so for the duration of the study. BT474 cells generally displayed no changes in ER during the first 8 weeks of deprivation, however its expression was significantly decreased at 10 months. PR expression was also down-regulated early in BT474 samples and was absent at later time points. Finally, microarray data revealed that genes and cell processes down-regulated in both cell lines at 6 weeks overlapped with those down-regulated in aromatase inhibitor treated breast cancer patients.
Conclusions: Our data demonstrate that expression of ER, PR, and cell metabolic/proliferative processes are unstable in response to long-term estrogen deprivation in breast cancer cell lines. These results mirror recent clinical findings and again emphasize the utility of LTED models in translational research.