Differential Regulation and Targeting of Estrogen Receptor α Turnover in Invasive Lobular Breast Carcinoma

Endocrinology. 2020 Sep 1;161(9):bqaa109. doi: 10.1210/endocr/bqaa109.


Invasive lobular breast carcinoma (ILC) accounts for 10% to 15% of breast cancers diagnosed annually. Evidence suggests that some aspects of endocrine treatment response might differ between invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and ILC, and that patients with ILC have worse long-term survival. We analyzed The Cancer Genome Atlas dataset and observed lower levels of ESR1 mRNA (P = 0.002) and ERα protein (P = 0.038) in ER+ ILC (n = 137) compared to IDC (n = 554), and further confirmed the mRNA difference in a local UPMC cohort (ILC, n = 143; IDC, n = 877; P < 0.005). In both datasets, the correlation between ESR1 mRNA and ERα protein was weaker in ILC, suggesting differential post-transcriptional regulation of ERα. In vitro, 17β-estradiol (E2) decreased the rate of degradation and increased the half-life of ERα in ILC cell lines, whereas the opposite was observed in IDC cell lines. Further, E2 failed to induce robust ubiquitination of ERα in ILC cells. To determine the potential clinical relevance of these findings, we evaluated the effect of 2 selective estrogen receptor downregulators (SERDs), ICI 182,780 and AZD9496, on ERα turnover and cell growth. While ICI 182,780 and AZD9496 showed similar effects in IDC cells, in ILC cell lines, AZD9496 was not as effective as ICI 182,780 in decreasing ERα stability and E2-induced proliferation. Furthermore, AZD9496 exhibited partial agonist activity in growth assays in ILC cell lines. Our study provides evidence for a distinct ERα regulation by SERDs in ILC cell lines, and therefore it is important to include ILC models into preclinical and clinical testing of novel SERDs.

Keywords: breast cancer; endocrine response; estrogen receptor; invasive lobular carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Lobular* / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Lobular* / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Lobular* / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / genetics*
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational / drug effects
  • Proteolysis / drug effects
  • Ubiquitination / drug effects


  • ESR1 protein, human
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Estradiol