Tamoxifen (TAM) and fulvestrant (FUL) represent the major adjuvant therapy to estrogen receptor-alpha positive (ER(+)) breast cancer patients. However, endocrine resistance to TAM and FUL is a great impediment for successful treatment. We hypothesized that miR-21 might alter the sensitivity of breast cancer cells to TAM or FUL by regulating cell autophagy. Using the ER(+) breast cancer cells, we knockdown miR-21.by transfection with miR-21 inhibitor, then the cells were exposed to TAM or FUL and the percentages of apoptosis and autophagy were determined. Knockdown of miR-21 significantly increased the TAM or FUL-induced apoptosis in ER(+) breast cancer cells. Further, silencing of miR-21 in MCF-7 cells enhanced cell autophagy at both basal and TAM or FUL-induced level. The increase of autophagy in miR-21-knockdown MCF-7 cells was also indicated by increase of beclin-1, LC3-II and increased GFP-LC3 dots. Importantly, knockdown of miR-21 contributed to autophagic cell death, which is responsible for part of TAM induced cell death in miR-21 inhibitor-transfected cells. Further analysis suggested that miR-21 inhibitor enhance autophagic cell death through inhibition of PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway. MiR-21 coordinated the function of autophagy and apoptosis by targeting Phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) through inhibition of PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway. In conclusion, silencing of miR-21 increased the sensitivity of ER(+) breast cancer cells to TAM or FUL by increasing autophagic cell death. Targeting autophagy-related miRNAs is a potential strategy for overcoming endocrine resistance to TAM and FUL.
Keywords: Apoptosis; Autophagy; Endocrine resistance; MiR-21; PI3K-AKT-mTOR.
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