Association of tamoxifen resistance and lipid reprogramming in breast cancer

BMC Cancer. 2018 Aug 24;18(1):850. doi: 10.1186/s12885-018-4757-z.


Background: Tamoxifen treatment of estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer reduces mortality by 31%. However, over half of advanced ER-positive breast cancers are intrinsically resistant to tamoxifen and about 40% will acquire the resistance during the treatment.

Methods: In order to explore mechanisms underlying endocrine therapy resistance in breast cancer and to identify new therapeutic opportunities, we created tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer cell lines that represent the luminal A or the luminal B. Gene expression patterns revealed by RNA-sequencing in seven tamoxifen-resistant variants were compared with their isogenic parental cells. We further examined those transcriptomic alterations in a publicly available patient cohort.

Results: We show that tamoxifen resistance cannot simply be explained by altered expression of individual genes, common mechanism across all resistant variants, or the appearance of new fusion genes. Instead, the resistant cell lines shared altered gene expression patterns associated with cell cycle, protein modification and metabolism, especially with the cholesterol pathway. In the tamoxifen-resistant T-47D cell variants we observed a striking increase of neutral lipids in lipid droplets as well as an accumulation of free cholesterol in the lysosomes. Tamoxifen-resistant cells were also less prone to lysosomal membrane permeabilization (LMP) and not vulnerable to compounds targeting the lipid metabolism. However, the cells were sensitive to disulfiram, LCS-1, and dasatinib.

Conclusion: Altogether, our findings highlight a major role of LMP prevention in tamoxifen resistance, and suggest novel drug vulnerabilities associated with this phenotype.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Drug sensitivity and resistance testing; Lysosomal membrane permeabilization; RNA-sequencing; Tamoxifen resistance.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / pharmacology
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cellular Reprogramming / genetics
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism / genetics*
  • Lipids / biosynthesis*
  • Lipids / genetics
  • Lysosomes / genetics
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology*
  • Transcriptome / genetics
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Lipids
  • Triglycerides
  • Tamoxifen
  • Cholesterol