Background: Metastatic prostate cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related death in men. The rate of response to androgen ablation is high, but most patients relapse as a result of the outgrowth of androgen-independent tumor cells. The androgen receptor, which binds testosterone and stimulates the transcription of androgen-responsive genes, regulates the growth of prostate cells. We analyzed the androgen-receptor genes from samples of metastatic androgen-independent prostate cancers to determine whether mutations in the gene have a role in androgen independence.
Methods: Complementary DNA was synthesized from metastatic prostate cancers in 10 patients with androgen-independent prostate cancer, and the expression of the androgen-receptor gene was estimated by amplification with the polymerase chain reaction. Exons B through H of the gene were cloned, and mutations were identified by DNA sequencing. The functional effects of the mutations were assessed in cells transfected with mutant genes.
Results: All androgen-independent tumors expressed high levels of androgen-receptor gene transcripts, relative to the levels expressed by an androgen-independent prostate-cancer cell line (LNCaP). Point mutations in the androgen-receptor gene were identified in metastatic cells from 5 of the 10 patients examined. One mutation was in the same codon as the mutation found previously in the androgen-independent prostate-cancer cell line. The mutations were not detected in the primary tumors from of the two patients. Functional studies of two of the mutant androgen receptors demonstrated that they could be activated by progesterone and estrogen.
Conclusions: Most metastatic androgen-independent prostate cancers express high levels of androgen-receptor gene transcripts. Mutations in androgen-receptor genes are not uncommon and may provide a selective growth advantage after androgen ablation.