RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) detects estrogen receptor alpha gene (ESR1) fusion transcripts in estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer, but their role in disease pathogenesis remains unclear. We examined multiple ESR1 fusions and found that two, both identified in advanced endocrine treatment-resistant disease, encoded stable and functional fusion proteins. In both examples, ESR1-e6>YAP1 and ESR1-e6>PCDH11X, ESR1 exons 1-6 were fused in frame to C-terminal sequences from the partner gene. Functional properties include estrogen-independent growth, constitutive expression of ER target genes, and anti-estrogen resistance. Both fusions activate a metastasis-associated transcriptional program, induce cellular motility, and promote the development of lung metastasis. ESR1-e6>YAP1- and ESR1-e6>PCDH11X-induced growth remained sensitive to a CDK4/6 inhibitor, and a patient-derived xenograft (PDX) naturally expressing the ESR1-e6>YAP1 fusion was also responsive. Transcriptionally active ESR1 fusions therefore trigger both endocrine therapy resistance and metastatic progression, explaining the association with fatal disease progression, although CDK4/6 inhibitor treatment is predicted to be effective.
Keywords: EMT; ESR1 fusions; PDX; breast cancer; endocrine therapy resistance; metastasis.
Copyright © 2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.