Pleiotropic Mechanisms Drive Endocrine Resistance in the Three-Dimensional Bone Microenvironment

Cancer Res. 2021 Jan 15;81(2):371-383. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-20-0571. Epub 2020 Aug 28.


Although hormonal therapy (HT) inhibits the growth of hormone receptor-positive (HR+) breast and prostate cancers, HT resistance frequently develops within the complex metastatic microenvironment of the host organ (often the bone), a setting poorly recapitulated in 2D culture systems. To address this limitation, we cultured HR+ breast cancer and prostate cancer spheroids and patient-derived organoids in 3D extracellular matrices (ECM) alone or together with bone marrow stromal cells (BMSC). In 3D monocultures, antiestrogens and antiandrogens induced anoikis by abrogating anchorage-independent growth of HR+ cancer cells but exhibited only modest effects against tumor cells residing in the ECM niche. In contrast, BMSC induced hormone-independent growth of breast cancer and prostate cancer spheroids and restored lumen filling in the presence of HR-targeting agents. Molecular and functional characterization of BMSC-induced hormone independence and HT resistance in anchorage-independent cells revealed distinct context-dependent mechanisms. Cocultures of ZR75-1 and LNCaP with BMSCs exhibited paracrine IL6-induced HT resistance via attenuation of HR protein expression, which was reversed by inhibition of IL6 or JAK signaling. Paracrine IL6/JAK/STAT3-mediated HT resistance was confirmed in patient-derived organoids cocultured with BMSCs. Distinctly, MCF7 and T47D spheroids retained ER protein expression in cocultures but acquired redundant compensatory signals enabling anchorage independence via ERK and PI3K bypass cascades activated in a non-IL6-dependent manner. Collectively, these data characterize the pleiotropic hormone-independent mechanisms underlying acquisition and restoration of anchorage-independent growth in HR+ tumors. Combined analysis of tumor and microenvironmental biomarkers in metastatic biopsies of HT-resistant patients can help refine treatment approaches. SIGNIFICANCE: This study uncovers a previously underappreciated dependency of tumor cells on HR signaling for anchorage-independent growth and highlights how the metastatic microenvironment restores this malignant property of cancer cells during hormone therapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Bone Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Bone Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Bone Neoplasms / secondary
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Tumor Microenvironment
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Receptors, Estrogen