Secreted indicators of androgen receptor activity in breast cancer pre-clinical models

Breast Cancer Res. 2021 Nov 4;23(1):102. doi: 10.1186/s13058-021-01478-9.


Purpose: Accumulating evidence has attracted attention to the androgen receptor (AR) as a biomarker and therapeutic target in breast cancer. We hypothesized that AR activity within the tumor has clinical implications and investigated whether androgen responsive serum factors might serve as a minimally invasive indicator of tumor AR activity.

Methods: Based on a comprehensive gene expression analysis of an AR-positive, triple negative breast cancer patient-derived xenograft (PDX) model, 163 dihydrotestosterone (DHT)-responsive genes were defined as an androgen responsive gene set. Among them, we focused on genes that were DHT-responsive that encode secreted proteins, namely KLK3, AZGP1 and PIP, that encode the secreted factors prostate specific antigen (PSA), zinc-alpha-2-glycoprotein (ZAG) and prolactin induced protein (PIP), respectively. Using AR-positive breast cancer cell lines representing all breast cancer subtypes, expression of candidate factors was assessed in response to agonist DHT and antagonist enzalutamide. Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) was performed on publically available gene expression datasets from breast cancer patients to analyze the relationship between genes encoding the secreted factors and other androgen responsive gene sets in each breast cancer subtype.

Results: Anti-androgen treatment decreased proliferation in all cell lines tested representing various tumor subtypes. Expression of the secreted factors was regulated by AR activation in the majority of breast cancer cell lines. In GSEA, the candidate genes were positively correlated with an androgen responsive gene set across breast cancer subtypes.

Conclusion: KLK3, AZGP1 and PIP are AR regulated and reflect tumor AR activity. Further investigations are needed to examine the potential efficacy of these factors as serum biomarkers.

Keywords: AZGP1; Androgen receptor; Androgen signal; Breast cancer; KLK3; PIP; Prolactin induced protein (PIP); Prostate specific antigen (PSA); Serum factor; Zinc-alpha-2-glycoprotein (ZAG).

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

  • Adipokines / genetics
  • Adipokines / metabolism*
  • Androgen Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Androgens / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Kallikreins / genetics
  • Kallikreins / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / genetics
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • AR protein, human
  • AZGP1 protein, human
  • Adipokines
  • Androgen Receptor Antagonists
  • Androgens
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • PIP protein, human
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • KLK3 protein, human
  • Kallikreins
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen