Inhibition of STAT3 enhances sensitivity to tamoxifen in tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer cells

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Abstract

Background: The mechanisms of endocrine resistance are complex, and deregulation of several oncogenic signalling pathways has been proposed. We aimed to investigate the role of the EGFR and Src-mediated STAT3 signalling pathway in tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer cells. Methods: The ER-positive luminal breast cancer cell lines, MCF-7 and T47D, were used. We have established an MCF-7-derived tamoxifen-resistant cell line (TamR) by long-term culture of MCF-7 cells with 4-hydroxytamoxifen. Cell viability was determined using an MTT assay, and protein expression levels were determined using western blot. Cell cycle and annexin V staining were analysed using flow cytometry. Results: TamR cells showed decreased expression of estrogen receptor and increased expression of EGFR. TamR cells showed an acceleration of the G1 to S phase transition. The protein expression levels of phosphorylated Src, EGFR (Y845), and STAT3 was increased in TamR cells, while phosphorylated Akt was decreased. The expression of p-STAT3 was enhanced according to exposure time of tamoxifen in T47D cells, suggesting that activation of STAT3 can cause tamoxifen resistance in ER-positive breast cancer cells. Both dasatinib (Src inhibitor) and stattic (STAT3 inhibitor) inhibited cell proliferation and induced apoptosis in TamR cells. However, stattic showed a much stronger effect than dasatinib. Knockdown of STAT3 expression by siRNA had no effect on sensitivity to tamoxifen in MCF-7 cells, while that enhanced sensitivity to tamoxifen in TamR cells. There was not a significant synergistic effect of dasatinib and stattic on cell survival. TamR cells have low nuclear p21(Cip1) expression compared to MCF-7 cells and inhibition of STAT3 increased the expression of nuclear p21(Cip1) in TamR cells. Conclusions: The EGFR and Src-mediated STAT3 signalling pathway is activated in TamR cells, and inhibition of STAT3 may be a potential target in tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer. An increase in nuclear p21(Cip1) may be a key step in STAT3 inhibitor-induced cell death in TamR cells.

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Moon, S. Y., Lee, H., Kim, S., Hong, J. H., Chun, S. H., Lee, H. Y., … Ko, Y. H. (2021). Inhibition of STAT3 enhances sensitivity to tamoxifen in tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer cells. BMC Cancer, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12885-021-08641-7

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