Journal Article

Recurrent hyperactive ESR1 fusion proteins in endocrine therapy-resistant breast cancer

R J Hartmaier, S E Trabucco, N Priedigkeit, J H Chung, C A Parachoniak, P Vanden Borre, S Morley, M Rosenzweig, L M Gay, M E Goldberg, J Suh, S M Ali, J Ross, B Leyland-Jones, B Young, C Williams, B Park, M Tsai, B Haley, J Peguero, R D Callahan, I Sachelarie, J Cho, J M Atkinson, A Bahreini, A M Nagle, S L Puhalla, R J Watters, Z Erdogan-Yildirim, L Cao, S Oesterreich, A Mathew, P C Lucas, N E Davidson, A M Brufsky, G M Frampton, P J Stephens, J Chmielecki and A V Lee

in Annals of Oncology

Published on behalf of European Society Medical Oncology

Volume 29, issue 4, pages 872-880
Published in print April 2018 | ISSN: 0923-7534
Published online January 2018 | e-ISSN: 1569-8041 | DOI:
Recurrent hyperactive ESR1 fusion proteins in endocrine therapy-resistant breast cancer

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Estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) metastatic breast cancer is often intractable due to endocrine therapy resistance. Although ESR1 promoter switching events have been associated with endocrine-therapy resistance, recurrent ESR1 fusion proteins have yet to be identified in advanced breast cancer.

Patients and methods

To identify genomic structural rearrangements (REs) including gene fusions in acquired resistance, we undertook a multimodal sequencing effort in three breast cancer patient cohorts: (i) mate-pair and/or RNAseq in 6 patient-matched primary-metastatic tumors and 51 metastases, (ii) high coverage (>500×) comprehensive genomic profiling of 287–395 cancer-related genes across 9542 solid tumors (5216 from metastatic disease), and (iii) ultra-high coverage (>5000×) genomic profiling of 62 cancer-related genes in 254 ctDNA samples. In addition to traditional gene fusion detection methods (i.e. discordant reads, split reads), ESR1 REs were detected from targeted sequencing data by applying a novel algorithm (copyshift) that identifies major copy number shifts at rearrangement hotspots.


We identify 88 ESR1 REs across 83 unique patients with direct confirmation of 9 ESR1 fusion proteins (including 2 via immunoblot). ESR1 REs are highly enriched in ER-positive, metastatic disease and co-occur with known ESR1 missense alterations, suggestive of polyclonal resistance. Importantly, all fusions result from a breakpoint in or near ESR1 intron 6 and therefore lack an intact ligand binding domain (LBD). In vitro characterization of three fusions reveals ligand-independence and hyperactivity dependent upon the 3′ partner gene. Our lower-bound estimate of ESR1 fusions is at least 1% of metastatic solid breast cancers, the prevalence in ctDNA is at least 10× enriched. We postulate this enrichment may represent secondary resistance to more aggressive endocrine therapies applied to patients with ESR1 LBD missense alterations.


Collectively, these data indicate that N-terminal ESR1 fusions involving exons 6–7 are a recurrent driver of endocrine therapy resistance and are impervious to ER-targeted therapies.

Keywords: breast cancer; endocrine therapy resistance; ESR1 fusion; genomic profiling; structural variation; genomic profiling

Journal Article.  4005 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medical Oncology

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