Role of estrogen receptor alpha in human cervical cancer-associated fibroblasts: a transcriptomic study

Tumour Biol. 2016 Apr;37(4):4409-20. doi: 10.1007/s13277-015-4257-6. Epub 2015 Oct 24.


Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts (CAFs) are crucial in genesis and progression of tumors; however, cervical CAFs (C-CAFs) are not well characterized. Estradiol (E2) has been implicated as a cofactor in human papillomavirus (HPV)-mediated cervical cancer (CxCa), both in animal models and in women using oral contraceptives; however, the exact role of the hormone is unclear. Human C-CAFs have recently been shown to express estrogen receptor alpha (ER-α). We investigated gene expression patterns in ex vivo cultured early and late stage C-CAFs in the context of E2. CAFs were isolated from four patients with early and two patients with late stage CxCa. ER-α expression in CxCa tissues was localized to stromal fibroblast-like cells and confirmed in ex vivo cultured C-CAFs. Two ER antagonists (ICI 182,780 and Methyl Piperidino Pyrazole) were used to unravel ER signaling in CAFs. Microarray technology was used for expression profiling and validated by quantitative reverse transcription PCR. The transcriptomes of C-CAFs across stages indicated their activated state. C-CAFs had gene expression patterns associated with both pro-tumorigenic and pro-inflammatory signaling. Late-stage C-CAFs compared to those of early stage appeared to be more actively metabolizing and cycling but expressed fewer genes related to immune function. We report differential expression profiles between C-CAFs: early vs. late stage and in the presence of ER antagonists. Both ER antagonists seemed to modulate C-CAF function by down regulating genes associated with cell cycle and metabolism, affecting angiogenesis and cancer progression. This study characterized C-CAFs from early and late stage disease, and experiments with ER inhibitors emphasized the probable importance of canonical ER-α signaling. Interfering with paracrine signaling through fibroblast ER-α is worth exploiting as a targeted therapy in CxCa management.

Keywords: Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts; Cervical cancer; Estrogen Receptor Alpha; Estrogen Receptor antagonists; ICI 182,780; MPP-Methyl Piperidino Pyrazole.

MeSH terms

  • Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cervix Uteri / metabolism
  • Cervix Uteri / pathology
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Gene Ontology
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcriptome*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / pathology


  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • estrogen receptor alpha, human