MiR-301a-3p Suppresses Estrogen Signaling by Directly Inhibiting ESR1 in ERα Positive Breast Cancer

Cell Physiol Biochem. 2018;46(6):2601-2615. doi: 10.1159/000489687. Epub 2018 May 7.


Background/aims: MiRNA-301a-3p is an oncogenic miRNA whose expression is associated with tumor development, metastases and overall poor prognosis. Estrogen receptor α (ERα) is one of the estrogen hormone-activated transcription factors, which regulates a large number of genes and is involved in the mammary gland development. Expression of ERα is considered to be a good indicator for endocrine therapy and breast cancer survival. Loss of ERα in breast cancer patients indicates invasiveness and poor prognosis. In this study, we focus on the regulation of ERα by miR-301a and its role in transition from estrogen-dependent to estrogen-independent breast cancer.

Methods: Expression of miR-301a-3p was measured by qRT-PCR in tumor tissue samples from 111 patients with primary breast carcinoma and in mammospheres representing in vitro model of cancer stem-like cells. Dual reporter luciferase assay and complementary experiments were performed to validate ESR1 as a direct target of miR-301a-3p. The effect of miR-301a-3p on estrogen signaling was evaluated on the level of gene and protein expression and growth response to estrogens. Finally, the effect of miR-301a-3p expression on tumor growth was studied in nude mice.

Results: We identified ESR1 as a direct target of miR-301a-3p. Ectopic miR-301a-3p causes a decrease in ESR1 mRNA and protein level and modulates the expression of ERα target genes in ERα positive breast cancer cells. Consistently, miR-301a-3p causes a decrease in sensitivity of MCF7 cells to 17β-estradiol and inhibits the growth of estrogen dependent tumor in nude mice. Yet, the mice tumors have significantly increased expression of genes related to cancer stem-like cells and epithelial to mesenchymal transition suggesting enrichment of the population of cells with more invasive properties, in line with our observation that miR-301a-3p expression is highly increased in mammospheres which show a decrease in estrogenic signaling. Importantly, miR-301a-3P level is also increased in primary breast cancer samples exhibiting an ER/PR negative phenotype.

Conclusion: Our results confirm ESR1 as a direct target of miR-301a-3p and suggest that miR-301a-3p likely contributes to development of estrogen independence, which leads to a more invasive phenotype of breast cancer.

Keywords: Breast cancer; ERα; Estrogen dependence; Estrogen signaling; MiR-301a.

MeSH terms

  • 3' Untranslated Regions
  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / analysis
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / genetics*
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / metabolism
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction


  • 3' Untranslated Regions
  • ESR1 protein, human
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Estrogens
  • MIRN301A microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs