Altered expression of estrogen receptor-α variant messenger RNAs between adjacent normal breast and breast tumor tissues
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DescriptionINTRODUCTION: Estrogen receptor (ER)-α and ER-β are believed to mediate the action of estradiol in target tissues. Several ER-α and ER-β variant messenger RNAs have been identified in both normal and neoplastic human tissues. Most of these variants contain a deletion of one or more exons of the wild-type (WT) ER messenger RNAs. The putative proteins that are encoded by these variant messenger RNAs would therefore be missing some functional domains of the WT receptors, and might interfere with WT-ER signaling pathways. The detection of ER-α variants in both normal and neoplastic human breast tissues raised the question of their possible role in breast tumorigenesis. We have previously reported an increased relative expression of exon 5 deleted ER-α variant (ERD5) messenger RNA and of another ER-α variant truncated of all sequences following the exon 2 of the WT ER-α (ERC4) messenger RNA in breast tumor samples versus independent normal breast tissues. In contrast, a decreased relative expression of exon 3 deleted ER-α variant (ERD3) messenger RNA in tumor tissues and cancer cell lines versus independent normal reduction mammoplasty samples has recently been reported. These data were obtained in tissues from different individuals and possible interindividual differences cannot be excluded. AIMS: The goal of this study was to investigate the expressions of ERC4, ERD5 and ERD3 variant messenger RNAs in normal breast tissues and their matched adjacent primary breast tumor tissues. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Eighteen cases were selected from the Manitoba Breast Tumor Bank, which had well separated and histopathologically characterized normal and adjacent neoplastic components. All tumors were classified as primary invasive ductal carcinomas. Six tumors were ER-negative/progesterone receptor (PR)-negative, nine were ER-positive/PR-positive, two were ER-positive/PR-negative, and one was ER-negative/PR-positive, as measured by ligand-binding assay. For each specimen, total RNA was extracted from frozen normal and tumor tissue sections and was reverse transcribed. The expressions of ERC4, ERD3 and ERD5 messenger RNAs relative to WT ER-α messenger RNA were investigated by previously validated semiquantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays performed using three different sets of primers. RESULTS: As shown Figure 1a, two PCR products were obtained that corresponded to WT ER and ERC4 messenger RNAs. For each case, the mean of the ratios obtained in at least three independent PCR experiments is shown for both normal and tumor compartments (Fig 1b). A statistically higher ERC4 messenger RNA relative expression was found in the neoplastic components of ER-positive/PR-positive tumors, as compared with matched adjacent normal tissues (n = 9; P = 0.019, Wilcoxon signed-rank test). Two PCR products were obtained that corresponded to WT ER and ERD3 messenger RNAs (Fig 2a). A significantly higher expression of ERD3 messenger RNA was observed in the normal compared with the adjacent neoplastic components of ER-positive subset (n =8; P =0.023, Wilcoxon signed-rank test; Fig 2b). Two PCR products were obtained that corresponded to WT ER and ERD5 complementary DNAs (Fig 3a). As shown in Figure 3b, a statistically significant higher relative expression of ERD5 messenger RNA was observed in tumor components when this expression was measurable in both normal and adjacent tumor tissues (n =15; P =0.035, Wilcoxon signed-rank test). DISCUSSION: A statistically significant higher ERC4 messenger RNA expression was found in ER-positive/PR-positive tumors as compared with matched normal breast tissues. ERC4 variant messenger RNA has previously been demonstrated to be more highly expressed in ER-positive tumors that showed poor as opposed to tumors that showed good prognostic characteristics. Interestingly, we also have reported similar levels of expression of ERC4 messenger RNA in primary breast tumors and their concurrent axillary lymph node metastases. Taken together, these data suggest that the putative role of the ERC4 variant might be important at different phases of breast tumorigenesis and tumor progression; alteration of ERC4 messenger RNA expression and resulting modifications in ER signaling pathway probably occur before breast cancer cells acquire the ability to metastasize. Transient expression assays revealed that the protein encoded by ERC4 messenger RNA was unable to activate the transcription of an estrogen-responsive element-reporter gene or to modulate the wild-type ER protein activity. The biologic significance of the changes observed in ERC4 messenger RNA expression during breast tumorigenesis remains to be determined. A higher relative expression of ERD3 messenger RNA in the normal breast tissue components compared with adjacent neoplastic tissue was found in the ER-positive subgroup. These data are in agreement with the recently published report of Erenburg et al, who showed a decreased relative expression of ERD3 messenger RNA in neoplastic breast tissues compared with independent reduction mammoplasty and breast tumor. Transfection experiments showed that the activation of the transcription of the pS2 gene by estrogen was drastically reduced in the presence of increased ERD3 expression. The authors hypothesized that the reduction in ERD3 expression could be a prerequisite for breast carcinogenesis to proceed. We observed a significantly higher relative expression of ERD5 messenger RNA in breast tumor components compared with matched adjacent normal breast tissue. These data confirm our previous observations performed on unmatched normal and neoplastic human breast tissues. Upregulated expression of this variant has already been reported in ER-negative/PR-positive tumors, as compared with ER-positive/PR-positive tumors, suggesting a possible correlation between ERD5 messenger RNA expression and breast tumor progression. Even though it has been suggested that ERD5 could be related to the acquisition of insensitivity to antiestrogen treatment (ie tamoxifen), accumulating data refute a general role for ERD5 in hormone-resistant tumors. Only ER-positive pS2-positive tamoxifen-resistant tumors have been shown to express significantly higher levels of ERD5 messenger RNA, as compared with control tumors. Taken together, these data suggest that the exact biologic significance of ERD5 variant expression during breast tumorigenesis and breast cancer progression, if any, remains unclear. In conclusion, we have shown that the relative expressions of ERC4 and ERD5 variant messenger RNAs were increased in human breast tumor tissue, as compared with normal adjacent tissue, whereas the expression of ERD3 variant messenger RNA was decreased in breast tumor tissues. These results suggest that the expressions of several ER-α variant messenger RNAs are deregulated during human breast tumorigenesis. Further studies are needed to determine whether these changes are transposed at the protein level. Furthermore, the putative role of ER-α variants in the mechanisms that underlie breast tumorigenesis remains to be determined.
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