Journal Article

Oncogenic HER2Δ16 suppresses miR-15a/16 and deregulates BCL-2 to promote endocrine resistance of breast tumors

Diana M. Cittelly, Partha M. Das, Virgilio A. Salvo, Juan P. Fonseca, Matthew E. Burow and Frank E. Jones

in Carcinogenesis

Volume 31, issue 12, pages 2049-2057
Published in print December 2010 | ISSN: 0143-3334
Published online September 2010 | e-ISSN: 1460-2180 | DOI:

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Tamoxifen is the most commonly prescribed therapy for patients with estrogen receptor (ER)α-positive breast tumors. Tumor resistance to tamoxifen remains a serious clinical problem especially in patients with tumors that also overexpress human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Current preclinical models of HER2 overexpression fail to recapitulate the clinical spectrum of endocrine resistance associated with HER2/ER-positive tumors. Here, we show that ectopic expression of a clinically important oncogenic isoform of HER2, HER2Δ16, which is expressed in >30% of ER-positive breast tumors, promotes tamoxifen resistance and estrogen independence of MCF-7 xenografts. MCF-7/HER2Δ16 cells evade tamoxifen through upregulation of BCL-2, whereas mediated suppression of BCL-2 expression or treatment of MCF-7/HER2Δ16 cells with the BCL-2 family pharmacological inhibitor ABT-737 restores tamoxifen sensitivity. Tamoxifen-resistant MCF-7/HER2Δ16 cells upregulate BCL-2 protein levels in response to suppressed ERα signaling mediated by estrogen withdrawal, tamoxifen treatment or fulvestrant treatment. In addition, HER2Δ16 expression results in suppression of BCL-2-targeting microRNAs miR-15a and miR-16. Reintroduction of miR-15a/16 reduced tamoxifen-induced BCL-2 expression and sensitized MCF-7/HER2Δ16 to tamoxifen. Conversely, inhibition of miR-15a/16 in tamoxifen-sensitive cells activated BCL-2 expression and promoted tamoxifen resistance. Our results suggest that HER2Δ16 expression promotes endocrine-resistant HER2/ERα-positive breast tumors and in contrast to wild-type HER2, preclinical models of HER2Δ16 overexpression recapitulate multiple phenotypes of endocrine-resistant human breast tumors. The mechanism of HER2Δ16 therapeutic evasion, involving tamoxifen-induced upregulation of BCL-2 and suppression of miR-15a/16, provides a template for unique therapeutic interventions combining tamoxifen with modulation of microRNAs and/or ABT-737-mediated BCL-2 inhibition and apoptosis.

Journal Article.  6025 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Clinical Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics

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