Control of aromatase activity in breast tumours: the role of the immune system

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 1997 Apr;61(3-6):185-92.


Cytokines such as interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha), have been identified as important regulators of aromatase activity in fibroblasts derived from normal and malignant breast tissues, and may play an important role in controlling aromatase activity in breast tumours. The major source of such cytokines within breast tumours remains to be established but macrophages and lymphocytes, which can infiltrate tumours, have been identified as a potential source of aromatase stimulatory cytokines. To obtain further insight into the possible role played by the immune system in cancer development, and in particular its ability to regulate aromatase activity via cytokine production, we have obtained peripheral blood monocytes and lymphocytes from an immunosuppressed kidney transplant recipient, receiving cyclosporin A therapy, and a woman with breast cancer. Monocytes and lymphocytes were stimulated with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), and the conditioned medium (CM) collected from these cells was tested for its ability to stimulate aromatase activity in fibroblasts derived from normal breast tissue from a woman undergoing lumpectomy for the removal of a breast tumour. The white blood cell count was lower for the immunosuppressed patient, mainly because of the reduction in the number of monocytes and lymphocytes. The ability of CM from the monocytes and lymphocytes of the immunosuppressed patient to stimulate aromatase activity was significantly reduced (68% and 82% for monocytes and lymphocytes, respectively) compared with that of CM from the cells of the woman with breast cancer. It is possible, therefore, that immunosuppression, which has been found to be associated with a reduction in the incidence of de novo breast cancer in kidney transplant recipients, may exert its effect by inhibiting cytokine production by the cells of the immune system and thus oestrogen synthesis. In contrast to the stimulatory effects that TNF alpha has on aromatase activity in breast fibroblasts, in MCF-7 breast cancer cells, which possess low aromatase activity, it reduced activity. However, the extent of inhibition of aromatase activity in these epithelial cells was much lower than the marked stimulation which it can induce in breast fibroblasts.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aromatase / analysis*
  • Aromatase / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood
  • Breast Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppression
  • Interleukin-6 / immunology
  • Kidney Transplantation*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Lymphocyte Activation / drug effects
  • Lymphocytes / enzymology*
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Monocytes / enzymology*
  • Monocytes / immunology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / immunology


  • Interleukin-6
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Aromatase