Antiestrogens in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors in breast cancer immunotherapy

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2019 Oct:193:105415. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2019.105415. Epub 2019 Jun 19.


Breast cancers (BCs) with expression of estrogen receptor-alpha (ERα) occur in more than 70% of newly-diagnosed patients in the U.S. Endocrine therapy with antiestrogens or aromatase inhibitors is an important intervention for BCs that express ERα, and it remains one of the most effective targeted treatment strategies. However, a substantial proportion of patients with localized disease, and essentially all patients with metastatic BC, become resistant to current endocrine therapies. ERα is present in most resistant BCs, and in many of these its activity continues to regulate BC growth. Fulvestrant represents one class of ERα antagonists termed selective ER downregulators (SERDs). Treatment with fulvestrant causes ERα down-regulation, an event that helps overcome several resistance mechanisms. Unfortunately, full antitumor efficacy of fulvestrant is limited by its poor bioavailability in clinic. We have designed and tested a new generation of steroid-like SERDs. Using ERα-positive BC cells in vitro, we find that these compounds suppress ERα protein levels with efficacy similar to fulvestrant. Moreover, these new SERDs markedly inhibit ERα-positive BC cell transcription and proliferation in vitro even in the presence of estradiol-17β. In vivo, the SERD termed JD128 significantly inhibited tumor growth in MCF-7 xenograft models in a dose-dependent manner (P < 0.001). Further, our findings indicate that these SERDs also interact with ER-positive immune cells in the tumor microenvironment such as myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC), tumor infiltrating lymphocytes and other selected immune cell subpopulations. SERD-induced inhibition of MDSCs and concurrent actions on CD8+ and CD4 + T-cells promotes interaction of immune checkpoint inhibitors with BC cells in preclinical models, thereby leading to enhanced tumor killing even among highly aggressive BCs such as triple-negative BC that lack ERα expression. Since monotherapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors has not been effective for most BCs, combination therapies with SERDs that enhance immune recognition may increase immunotherapy responses in BC and improve patient survival. Hence, ERα antagonists that also promote ER downregulation may potentially benefit patients who are unresponsive to current endocrine therapies.

Keywords: Breast cancer; CD8+ T-cells; Immunotherapy; Myeloid-derived suppressor cells; PD-L1; Selective estrogen receptor downregulator (SERD).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Estrogen Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Estrogen Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Fulvestrant / pharmacology
  • Fulvestrant / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • Cytokines
  • Estrogen Antagonists
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Fulvestrant