Introduction: Tamoxifen, a selective estrogen receptor (ER) modulator, may affect cancer cell survival through mechanisms other than ER antagonism. In the present study, we tested the efficacy of tamoxifen in a panel of ER-negative breast cancer cell lines and examined the drug mechanism.
Methods: In total, five ER-negative breast cancer cell lines (HCC-1937, MDA-MB-231, MDA-MB-468, MDA-MB-453 and SK-BR-3) were used for in vitro studies. Cellular apoptosis was examined by flow cytometry and Western blot analysis. Signal transduction pathways in cells were assessed by Western blot analysis. The in vivo efficacy of tamoxifen was tested in xenograft nude mice.
Results: Tamoxifen induced significant apoptosis in MDA-MB-231, MDA-MB-468, MDA-MB-453 and SK-BR-3 cells, but not in HCC-1937 cells. Tamoxifen-induced apoptosis was associated with inhibition of cancerous inhibitor of protein phosphatase 2A (CIP2A) and phospho-Akt (p-Akt) in a dose-dependent manner. Ectopic expression of either CIP2A or Akt protected MDA-MB-231 cells from tamoxifen-induced apoptosis. In addition, tamoxifen increased protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) activity, and tamoxifen-induced apoptosis was attenuated by the PP2A antagonist okadaic acid in the sensitive cell lines, but not in resistant HCC-1937 cells. Moreover, silencing CIP2A by small interfering RNA sensitized HCC-1937 cells to tamoxifen-induced apoptosis. Furthermore, tamoxifen regulated CIP2A protein expression by downregulating CIP2A mRNA. Importantly, tamoxifen inhibited the in vivo growth of MDA-MB-468 xenograft tumors in association with CIP2A downregulation, whereas tamoxifen had no significant effect on CIP2A expression and anti-tumor growth in HCC-1937 tumors.
Conclusions: Inhibition of CIP2A determines the effects of tamoxifen-induced apoptosis in ER-negative breast cancer cells. Our data suggest a novel "off-target" mechanism of tamoxifen and suggest that CIP2A/PP2A/p-Akt signaling may be a feasible anti-cancer pathway.