Estrogen-Independent Myc Overexpression Confers Endocrine Therapy Resistance on Breast Cancer Cells Expressing ERαY537S and ERαD538G Mutations

Liqun Yu, Lawrence Wang, Chengjian Mao, Darjan Duraki, Ji Eun Kim, Rui Huang, William G. Helferich, Erik R. Nelson, Ben Ho Park, and David J. Shapiro

Cancer Letters, In Press

Approximately 30% of metastatic breast cancers harbor estrogen receptor α (ERα) mutations associated with resistance to endocrine therapy and reduced survival. Consistent with their constitutive proliferation, T47D and MCF7 cells in which wild-type ERα is replaced by the most common mutations, ERαY537S and ERαD538G, exhibit partially estrogen-independent gene expression. A novel invasion/dissociation/rebinding assay demonstrated that the mutant cells have a higher tendency to dissociate from invasion sites and rebind to a second site. Compared to ERαD538G breast tumors, ERαY537S tumors exhibited a dramatic increase in lung metastasis. Transcriptome analysis showed that the ERαY537S and ERαD538G mutations each elicit a unique gene expression profile. Gene set enrichment analysis showed Myc target pathways are highly induced in mutant cells. Moreover, chromatin immunoprecipitation showed constitutive, fulvestrant-resistant, recruitment of ERα mutants to the Myc enhancer region, resulting in estrogen-independent Myc overexpression in mutant cells and tumors. Knockdown and virus transduction showed Myc is necessary and sufficient for ligand-independent proliferation of the mutant cells but had no effect on metastasis-related phenotypes. Thus, Myc plays a key role in aggressive proliferation-related phenotypes exhibited by breast cancer cells expressing ERα mutations.                                                                


Strong and Sustained Activation of the Anticipatory Unfolded Protein Response Induces Necrotic Cell Death

Mara Livezey, Rui Huang, Paul J. Hergenrother, and David J. Shapiro

Cell Death & Differentiation, 2018 Jun 13

The endoplasmic reticulum stress sensor, the unfolded protein response (UPR), regulates intracellular protein homeostasis. While transient activation of the reactive UPR by unfolded protein is protective, prolonged and sustained activation of the reactive UPR triggers CHOP-mediated apoptosis. In the recently characterized, evolutionarily conserved anticipatory UPR, mitogenic hormones and other effectors pre-activate the UPR; how strong and sustained activation of the anticipatory UPR induces cell death was unknown. To characterize this cell death pathway, we used BHPI, a small molecule that activates the anticipatory UPR through estrogen receptor α (ERα) and induces death of ERα+ cancer cells. We show that sustained activation of the anticipatory UPR by BHPI kills cells by inducing depletion of intracellular ATP, resulting in classical necrosis phenotypes, including plasma membrane disruption and leakage of intracellular contents. Unlike reactive UPR activation, BHPI-induced hyperactivation of the anticipatory UPR does not induce apoptosis or sustained autophagy. BHPI does not induce CHOP protein or PARP cleavage, and two pan-caspase inhibitors, or Bcl2 overexpression, have no effect on BHPI-induced cell death. Moreover, BHPI does not increase expression of autophagy markers, or work through recently identified programmed-necrosis pathways, such as necroptosis. Opening of endoplasmic reticulum IP3R calcium channels stimulates cell swelling, cPLA2 activation, and arachidonic acid release. Notably, cPLA2 activation requires ATP depletion. Importantly, blocking rapid cell swelling or production of arachidonic acid does not prevent necrotic cell death. Rapid cell death is upstream of PERK activation and protein synthesis inhibition, and results from strong and sustained activation of early steps in the anticipatory UPR. Supporting a central role for ATP depletion, reversing ATP depletion blocks rapid cell death, and the onset of necrotic cell death is correlated with ATP depletion. Necrotic cell death initiated by strong and sustained activation of the anticipatory UPR is a newly discovered role of the UPR.


A New Role for Estrogen Receptor α in Cell Proliferation and Cancer: Activating the Anticipatory Unfolded Protein Response

Mara Livezey, Ji Eun Kim, and David J. Shapiro

Frontiers in Endocrinology, 2018 Jun 15

Cells react to a variety of stresses, including accumulation of unfolded or misfolded protein, by activating the endoplasmic reticulum (EnR) stress sensor, the unfolded protein response (UPR). The UPR is highly conserved and plays a key role in the maintenance of protein folding quality control and homeostasis. In contrast to the classical reactive mode of UPR activation, recent studies describe a hormone-activated anticipatory UPR. In this pathway, mitogenic hormones, such as estrogen (E2), epidermal growth factor, and vascular endothelial growth factor rapidly activate the UPR in anticipation of a future need for increased protein folding capacity upon cell proliferation. Here, we focus on this recently unveiled pathway of E2-estrogen receptor α (ERα) action. Notably, rapid activation of the anticipatory UPR pathway is essential for subsequent activation of the E2-ERα regulated transcription program. Moreover, activation of the UPR at diagnosis is a powerful prognostic marker in ERα positive breast cancer. Furthermore, in cells containing ERα mutations that confer estrogen independence and are common in metastatic breast cancer, the UPR is constitutively activated and linked to antiestrogen resistance. Lethal ERα-dependent hyperactivation of the anticipatory UPR represents a promising therapeutic approach exploited by a new class of small molecule ERα biomodulator.


A Novel IMP1 Inhibitor, BTYNB, Targets c-Myc and Inhibits Melanoma and Ovarian Cancer Cell Proliferation.

Lily Mahapatra, Neal Andruska, Chenjian Mao, J. Le and David J. Shapiro

Translational Oncology, 2017 Oct 10

The oncofetal mRNA-binding protein, IMP1 or insulin-like growth factor-2 mRNA-binding protein 2 (IGF2BP1), binds to and stabilizes c-Myc, β-TrCP1, and other oncogenic mRNAs, leading to increased expression of the proteins encoded by its target mRNAs. IMP1 is frequently overexpressed in cancer and is strongly correlated with a poor prognosis and reduced survival in melanoma, ovarian, breast, colon, and lung cancer. While IMP1 is an attractive anticancer drug target, there are no small molecule inhibitors of IMP1. A fluorescence anisotropy-based assay was used to screen 160,000 small molecules for their ability to inhibit IMP1 binding to fluorescein-labeled c-Myc mRNA. The small molecule, BTYNB, was identified as a potent and selective inhibitor of IMP1 binding to c-Myc mRNA. In cells, BTYNB downregulates several mRNA transcripts regulated by IMP1. BTYNB destabilizes c-Myc mRNA, resulting in downregulation of c-Myc mRNA and protein. BTYNB downregulates β-TrCP1 mRNA and reduces activation of nuclear transcriptional factors-kappa B (NF-κB). The oncogenic translation regulator, eEF2, emerged as a new IMP1 target mRNA, enabling BTYNB to inhibit tumor cell protein synthesis. BTYNB potently inhibited proliferation of IMP1-containing ovarian cancer and melanoma cells with no effect in IMP1-negative cells. Overexpression of IMP1 reversed BTYNB inhibition of cell proliferation. BTYNB completely blocked anchorage-independent growth of melanoma and ovarian cancer cells in colony formation assays. With its ability to target c-Myc and to inhibit proliferation of difficult-to-target melanomas and ovarian cancer cells, and with its unique mode of action, BTYNB is a promising small molecule for further therapeutic evaluation and mechanistic studies.


Antiestrogen Resistant Cell Lines Expressing Estrogen Receptor α Mutations Upregulate the Unfolded Protein Response and are Killed by BHPI.

Chengjian Mao, Mara Livezey, Ji Eun Kim and David J. Shapiro

Scientific Reports, 2016 Oct 7

Outgrowth of metastases expressing ERa mutations Y537S and D538G is common after endocrine therapy for estrogen receptor a (ERa) positive breast cancer. The effect of replacing wild type ERa in breast cancer cells with these mutations was unclear. We used the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system and homology directed repair to isolate and characterize 14 T47D cell lines in which ERaY537S or ERaD538G replace one or both wild-type ERa genes. In 2-dimensional, and in quantitative anchorage-independent 3-dimensional cell culture, ERaY537S and ERaD538G cells exhibited estrogen-independent growth. A progestin further increased their already substantial proliferation in micromolar 4-hydroxytamoxifen and fulvestrant/ICI 182,780 (ICI). Our recently described ERa biomodulator, BHPI, which hyperactivates the unfolded protein response (UPR), completely blocked proliferation. In ERaY537S and ERaD538G cells, estrogen-ERa target genes were constitutively active and partially antiestrogen resistant. The UPR marker sp-XBP1 was constitutively activated in ERaY537S cells and further induced by progesterone in both cell lines. UPR-regulated genes associated with tamoxifen resistance, including the oncogenic chaperone BiP/GRP78, were upregulated. ICI displayed a greater than 2 fold reduction in its ability to induce ERaY537S and ERaD538G degradation. Progestins, UPR activation and perhaps reduced ICI-stimulated ERa degradation likely contribute to antiestrogen resistance seen in ERaY537S and ERaD538G cells.


Targeting multidrug-resistant ovarian cancer through estrogen receptor α dependent ATP depletion caused by hyperactivation of the unfolded protein response.

Xiaobin Zheng, Neal Andruska, Michael J. Lambrecht, Sisi He, Amadeo Parissenti, Paul J. Hergenrother, Erik R. Nelson and David J. Shapiro

Oncotarget, 2016 Jul 24

Ovarian cancers often recur and tumors acquire resistance to chemotherapy due to overexpression of the ATP-dependent efflux pump, multidrug resistance protein 1 (MDR1/P-glycoprotein/ABCB1). Nontoxic small molecule inhibitors targeting MDR1 have remained largely elusive. Instead, in a novel application of our recently described estrogen receptor α (ERα) biomodulator, BHPI, we targeted MDR1’s substrate, ATP. BHPI depletes intracellular ATP and nearly blocks MDR1-mediated drug efflux in ovarian cancer cells by inducing toxic hyperactivation of the endoplasmic reticulum stress sensor, the unfolded protein response (UPR). BHPI increased sensitivity of MDR1 overexpressing multidrug resistant OVCAR-3 ovarian cancer cells to killing by paclitaxel by >1,000 fold. BHPI also restored doxorubicin sensitivity in OVCAR-3 cells and in MDR1 overexpressing breast cancer cells. In an orthotopic OVCAR-3 xenograft model, paclitaxel was ineffective and the paclitaxel-treated group was uniquely prone to form large secondary tumors in adjacent tissue. BHPI alone strongly reduced tumor growth. Notably, tumors were undetectable in mice treated with BHPI plus paclitaxel. Compared to control ovarian tumors, after the combination therapy, levels of the plasma ovarian cancer biomarker CA125 were at least several hundred folds lower; moreover, CA125 levels progressively declined to undetectable. Targeting MDR1 through UPR-dependent ATP depletion represents a promising therapeutic strategy.


Anticipatory UPR Activation: A Protective Pathway and Target in Cancer.

David J.Shapiro, Mara Livezey, Liqun Yu, Xiaobin Zheng and Neal Andruska

Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2016 Jun 25

The endoplasmic reticulum (EnR) stress sensor, the unfolded protein response (UPR), plays a key role in regulating intracellular protein homeostasis. The extensively studied reactive mode of UPR activation is characterized by unfolded protein, or other EnR stress, triggering UPR activation. Here we focus on the emerging anticipatory mode of UPR activation in which mitogenic steroid and peptide hormones and other effectors preactivate the UPR and anticipate a future need for increased protein folding capacity. Mild UPR activation in breast cancer can be protective and contributes to antiestrogen resistance. Hyperactivation of the anticipatory UPR pathway in cancer cells with a small molecule converts it from cytoprotective to cytotoxic, highlighting its potential as a therapeutic target in estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.


Interplay between steroid hormone activation of the unfolded protein response and nuclear receptor action.

Xiaobin Zheng, Neal Andruska, Liqun Yu, Chengjian Mao, Ji Eun Kim, Mara Livezey, William J. Helferich and David J.Shapiro.

Steroids, 2016 Mar 23

To identify new pathways of estrogen action and novel estrogen receptor α (ERα) biomodulators, we performed high throughput screening and used follow on assays and bioinformatics to identify small molecule ERα inhibitors with a novel mode of action. These studies led to identification of rapid extranuclear activation of the endoplasmic reticulum stress sensor, the unfolded protein response (UPR), as a new pathway of estrogen-ERα action. Moreover, increasing evidence indicates that the mechanism underlying anticipatory activation of the UPR is shared among steroid and peptide hormones and is conserved from insects to humans. It is likely that this newly unveiled extranuclear pathway is used by diverse mitogenic hormones to prepare cells for the increased protein folding load that will occur during subsequent cell proliferation. Demonstrating biological relevance, elevated expression of a UPR gene signature in ERα positive breast cancer is a powerful new prognostic marker tightly correlated with subsequent resistance to tamoxifen, tumor recurrence and poor survival. In addition, overexpression of epidermal growth factor receptor and HER2/neu is positively correlated with increased UPR activation in breast cancer. This review describes recent research that demonstrates the importance of anticipatory UPR activation in therapy resistant tumors and discusses a promising small molecule biomodulator that inhibits tumor growth by tuning this UPR signaling pathway.


Anticipatory activation of the unfolded protein response by epidermal growth factor is required for immediate early gene expression and cell proliferation.

Liqun Yu, Neal Andruska, Xiaobin Zheng and David J.Shapiro.

Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, 2015 Nov 6

The onco-protein epidermal growth factor (EGF) initiates a cascade that includes activation of the ERK and AKT signaling pathways and alters gene expression. We describe a new action of EGF-EGF receptor (EGFR), rapid anticipatory activation of the endoplasmic reticulum stress sensor, theunfolded protein response (UPR). Within 2 min, EGF elicits EGFR dependent activation of phospholipase C γ (PLCγ), producing inositol triphosphate (IP3), which binds to IP3 receptor (IP3R), opening the endoplasmic reticulum IP3R Ca2+ channels, resulting in increased intracellular Ca2+. This calcium release leads to transient and moderate activation of the IRE1α and ATF6α arms of the UPR, resulting in induction of BiP chaperone. Knockdown or inhibition of EGFR, PLCγ or IP3R blocks the increase in intracellular Ca2+. While blocking the increase in intracellular Ca2+ by locking the IP3R calcium channel with 2-APB had no effect on EGF activation of the ERK or AKT signaling pathways, it abolished the rapid EGF-mediated induction and repression of gene expression. Knockdown of ATF6α or XBP1, which regulate UPR-induced chaperone production, inhibited EGF stimulated cell proliferation. Supporting biological relevance, increased levels of EGF receptor during tumor progression were correlated with increased expression of the UPR gene signature. Anticipatory activation of the UPR is a new role for EGF. Since UPR activation occurs in <2 min, it is an initial cell response when EGF binds EGFR.


Estrogen receptor α inhibitor activates the unfolded protein response, blocks protein synthesis, and induces tumor regression.

Neal Andruska , Xiaobin Zheng, X. Yang, Chengjian Mao, Mathew M. Cherian, Lily Mahapatra, William J. Helferich and David J.Shapiro.

 Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2015 Mar 30 (Highlighted Paper)

Significance: Late-stage estrogen receptor α (ERα)-positive breast and ovarian cancers exhibit many regulatory alterations and therefore resist therapy. Our novel ERα inhibitor, BHPI, stops growth and often kills drug-resistant ERα+ cancer cells and induces rapid and substantial tumor regression in a mouse model of human breast cancer. BHPI distorts a normally protective estrogen–ERα-mediated activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) and elicits sustained UPR activation. The UPR cannot be deactivated because BHPI, acting at a second site, inhibits production of proteins that normally help turn it off. This persistent activation converts the UPR from protective to lethal. Targeting therapy-resistant ERα- positive cancer cells by converting the UPR from cytoprotective to cytotoxic may hold significant therapeutic promise.

Abstract: Recurrent estrogen receptor α (ERα)-positive breast and ovarian cancers are often therapy resistant. Using screening and functional validation, we identified BHPI, a potent noncompetitive small molecule ERα biomodulator that selectively blocks proliferation of drug-resistant ERα-positive breast and ovarian cancer cells. In a mouse xenograft model of breast cancer, BHPI induced rapid and substantial tumor regression. Whereas BHPI potently inhibits nuclear estrogen-ERα-regulated gene expression, BHPI is effective because it elicits sustained ERα-dependent activation of the endoplasmic reticulum (EnR) stress sensor, the unfolded protein response (UPR), and persistent inhibition of protein synthesis. BHPI distorts a newly described action of estrogen-ERα: mild and transient UPR activation. In contrast, BHPI elicits massive and sustained UPR activation, converting the UPR from protective to toxic. In ERα+ cancer cells, BHPI rapidly hyperactivates plasma membrane PLCγ, generating inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate (IP3), which opens EnR IP3R calcium channels, rapidly depleting EnR Ca2+ stores. This leads to activation of all three arms of the UPR. Activation of the PERK arm stimulates phosphorylation of eukaryotic initiation factor 2α (eIF2α), resulting in rapid inhibition of protein synthesis. The cell attempts to restore EnR Ca2+ levels, but the open EnR IP3R calcium channel leads to an ATP-depleting futile cycle, resulting in activation of the energy sensor AMP-activated protein kinase and phosphorylation of eukaryotic elongation factor 2 (eEF2). eEF2 phosphorylation inhibits protein synthesis at a second site. BHPI's novel mode of action, high potency, and effectiveness in therapy-resistant tumor cells make it an exceptional candidate for further mechanistic and therapeutic exploration.


Anticipatory estrogen activation of the unfolded protein response is linked to cell proliferation and poor survival in estrogen receptor α-positive breast cancer.

Neal Andruska , Xiaobin Zheng, X. Yang, William J. Helferich and David J.Shapiro.

Oncogene, 2014 Sep 29

In response to cell stress, cancer cells often activate the endoplasmic reticulum (EnR) stress sensor, the unfolded protein response (UPR). Little was known about the potential role in cancer of a different mode of UPR activation, anticipatory activation of the UPR prior to accumulation of unfolded protein or cell stress. We show that estrogen, acting via estrogen receptor α (ERα), induces rapid anticipatory activation of the UPR, resulting in increased production of the antiapoptotic chaperone BiP/GRP78, preparing cancer cells for the increased protein production required for subsequent estrogen-ERα-induced cell proliferation. In ERα-containing cancer cells, the estrogen, 17β-estradiol (E2) activates the UPR through a phospholipase C γ (PLCγ)-mediated opening of EnR IP3R calcium channels, enabling passage of calcium from the lumen of the EnR into the cytosol. siRNA knockdown of ERα blocked the estrogen-mediated increase in cytosol calcium and UPR activation. Knockdown or inhibition of PLCγ, or of IP3R, strongly inhibited the estrogen-mediated increases in cytosol calcium, UPR activation and cell proliferation. E2-ERα activates all three arms of the UPR in breast and ovarian cancer cells in culture and in a mouse xenograft. Knockdown of ATF6α, which regulates UPR chaperones, blocked estrogen induction of BiP and strongly inhibited E2-ERα-stimulated cell proliferation. Mild and transient UPR activation by estrogen promotes an adaptive UPR response that protects cells against subsequent UPR-mediated apoptosis. Analysis of data from ERα+ breast cancers demonstrates elevated expression of a UPR gene signature that is a powerful new prognostic marker tightly correlated with subsequent resistance to tamoxifen therapy, reduced time to recurrence and poor survival. Thus, as an early component of the E2-ERα proliferation program, the mitogen estrogen, drives rapid anticipatory activation of the UPR. Anticipatory activation of the UPR is a new role for estrogens in cancer cell proliferation and resistance to therapy.Oncogene advance online publication, 29 September 2014; doi:10.1038/onc.2014.292.


High-throughput fluorescence anisotropy screen for inhibitors of the oncogenic mRNA-binding Protein, IMP-1.

Lily Mahapatra, Chengjian Mao, Neal Andruska ,  Chen Zhang  and David J. Shapiro

J Biomol Screen. 2014 Mar;19(3):427-36.

Cancer cell proliferation is regulated by oncogenes, such as c-Myc. An alternative approach to directly targeting individual oncogenes is to target IMP-1, an oncofetal protein that binds to and stabilizes mRNAs, leading to elevated expression of c-Myc and other oncogenes. Expression of IMP-1 is tightly correlated with a poor prognosis and reduced survival in ovarian, lung and colon cancer. Small molecule inhibitors of IMP-1 have not been reported. We established a fluorescence anisotropy/polarization microplate assay (FAMA) for analyzing binding of IMP-1 to a fluorescein-labeled 93 nucleotide c-Myc mRNA target (flMyc), developed the assay as a highly robust (Z’ factor=0.60) FAMA-based high throughput screen for inhibitors of binding of IMP-1 to flMyc, and carried out a successful pilot screen of 17,600 small molecules. Our studies support rapidly filtering out toxic non-specific inhibitors using an early cell-based assay in control cells lacking the target protein. The physiologic importance of verified hits from the in vitro high throughput screen was demonstrated by identification of the first small molecule IMP-1 inhibitor; a lead compound that selectively inhibits proliferation of IMP-1 positive cancer cells with very little or no effect on proliferation of IMP-1 negative cells.


The immune system and inflammation in breast cancer.

Xinguo Jiang and David J. Shapiro

Mol Cell Endocrinol., 382(1): 673-82. (Recommended by Faculty of 1000 Prime)

During different stages of tumor development the immune system can either identify and destroy tumors, or promote their growth. Therapies targeting the immune system have emerged as a promising treatment modality for breast cancer, and immunotherapeutic strategies are being examined in preclinical and clinical models. However, our understanding of the complex interplay between cells of the immune system and breast cancer cells is incomplete. In this article, we review recent findings showing how the immune system plays dual host-protective and tumor-promoting roles in breast cancer initiation and progression. We then discuss estrogen receptor a (ERa)-dependent and ERa-independent mechanisms that shield breast cancers from immunosurveillance and enable breast cancer cells to evade immune cell induced apoptosis and produce an immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment. Finally, we discuss protumorigenic inflammation that is induced during tumor progression and therapy, and how inflammation promotes more aggressive phenotypes in ERa positive breast cancers.


A competitive inhibitor that reduces recruitment of androgen receptor to androgen responsive genes.

Milu T. Cherian, Elizabeth M. Wilson, and David J. Shapiro

J Biol Chem. 2012 Jul 6;287(28):23368-80. Epub 2012 May 15.

Background: Androgen receptor (AR) is a major therapeutic target for inhibiting proliferation of prostate cancer cells.
Results: A newly identified AR inhibitor, CPIC works by reducing AR binding to regulated genes.
Conclusion: CPIC has a different mode of action from classical AR antagonists such as bicalutamide.
Significance: CPIC has therapeutic potential in the treatment of prostate cancer and is a new tool for studying AR.

The androgen receptor (AR) has a critical role in the growth and progression of androgen-dependent and castration-resistant prostate cancers. To identify novel inhibitors of AR transactivation that block growth of prostate cancer cells, a luciferase-based high throughput screen of ~160,000 small molecules was performed in cells stably expressing AR and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA)-luciferase reporter. CPIC (1-(3-(2-chlorophenoxy) propyl)-1H-indole-3-carbonitrile) was identified as a small molecule that blocks AR transactivation to a greater extent than other steroid receptors. CPIC inhibited AR-mediated proliferation of androgen-sensitive prostate cancer cell lines, with minimal toxicity in AR-negative cell lines. CPIC treatment also reduced the anchorage-independent growth of LAPC-4 prostate cancer cells. CPIC functioned as a pure antagonist by inhibiting the expression of AR-regulated genes in LAPC-4 cells that express wild-type AR, and exhibited weak agonist activity in LNCaP cells that express the mutant AR-T877A. CPIC treatment did not reduce AR levels or alter its nuclear localization. We used chromatin immunoprecipitation to identify the site of action of CPIC. CPIC inhibited recruitment of androgen-bound AR to the PSA promoter and enhancer sites to a greater extent than bicalutamide. CPIC is a new therapeutic inhibitor that targets AR-mediated gene activation with potential to arrest the growth of prostate cancer.


Evaluation of a luciferase-based reporter assay for inhibitors of estrogen receptor α-action as a screen for inhibitors of estrogen-ERα-induced proliferation of breast cancer cells.

Neal Andruska, Chengjian Mao, Mathew Cherian, Chen Zhang, and David J. Shapiro

J Biomol Screen. 2012 Aug;17(7):921-32. Epub 2012 Apr 12.

Estrogens, acting through estrogen receptor α (ERα), stimulate breast cancer proliferation, making ERα an attractive drug target. Since 384-well format screens for inhibitors of proliferation can be challenging for some cells, inhibition of luciferase-based reporters is often used as a surrogate end-point. To identify novel small molecules inhibitors of 17β-estradiol (E2)-ERα-stimulated cell proliferation, we established a cell-based screen for inhibitors of E2-ERα induction of an estrogen response element ((ERE)3-luciferase) reporter. 75 "hits" were evaluated in tiered follow-up assays to identify where hits failed to progress and evaluate their effectiveness as inhibitors of E2-ERα induced proliferation of breast cancer cells. Only 8 of 75 hits from the luciferase screen inhibited estrogen-induced proliferation of ERα positive MCF-7 and T47D cells, but not control ERα negative MDA-MB-231 cells. While 12% of compounds inhibited E2-ERα-stimulated proliferation in only one of the ERα positive cell lines, 40% of compounds were toxic and inhibited growth of all the cell lines, and ~37% exhibited little or no ability to inhibit E2-ERα-stimulated cell proliferation. Representative compounds were evaluated in more detail and a lead ERα inhibitor was identified.


8-Alkylthio-6-thio-substituted theophylline analogues as selective noncompetitive progesterone receptor antagonists.

Irene O. Aninye, Kenneth C. Berg, Andy R. Mollo, Steven K. Nordeen, Elizabeth M. Wilson, and David J. Shapiro

Steroids. 2012 May;77(6):596-601. Epub 2012 Mar 6.

The progesterone receptor (PR) plays a key role in reproduction and is important in cancers of the reproductive tract. Current PR antagonists usually compete for progestin binding in the PR ligand-binding pocket and often exhibit cross-binding with other members of the steroid receptor family. Using stably transfected cells expressing reporter genes, a set of ~150 theophylline analogues were screened for their ability to inhibit progesterone, estrogen, glucocorticoid and androgen signaling. The structure-activity studies presented here identify branched 8-alkylthio-6-thio-substitutions of theophylline as selective PR inhibitors. 6-thio-8-(2-ethylbutyl)thiotheophylline (51), the most extensively studied derivative, does not act by competing with progestins for binding in the ligand-binding pocket of PR. It demonstrated the ability to inhibit the mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV)-luciferase reporter and endogenous PR-regulated alkaline phosphatase activity in T47D breast cancer cells. Compound 51 is the lead member of a novel class of PR inhibitors that act outside the PR ligand-binding pocket, thus serving as a novel probe to investigate PR action and a lead for further development.


Fluorescence anisotropy microplate assay to investigate the interaction of full-length steroid receptor coactivator-1a with steroid receptors.

Chen Zhang, Steven K. Nordeen, and David J. Shapiro

Methods in Molecular Biology, 977:339-351. 2013

Estrogens, acting via estrogen receptor (ER) play key roles in growth, differentiation and gene regulation in the reproductive, central nervous and skeletal systems. ER-mediated gene transcription contributes to the development and spread of breast, uterine, and liver cancer. Steroid receptor coactivator-1a (SRC1a) belongs to the P160 family of coactivators, which is the best known of the many coactivators implicated in ER-mediated transactivation. Binding of full-length P160 coactivators to steroid receptors has been difficult to investigate in vitro. This chapter details how to investigate the interaction of SRC1a with ER using the fluorescence anisotropy/polarization microplate assay (FAMA).


RUNX3 acts as a tumor suppressor in breast cancer by targeting estrogen receptor α.

B Huang, Z Qu, CW Ong, Y-HN Tsang, G Xiao, DJ Shapiro, M Salto-Tellez, K Ito, Y Ito, and L-F Chen

Oncogene. 2012 Jan 26;31(4):527-34. doi: 10.1038/onc.2011.252. Epub 2011 Jun 27.

Transcription factor RUNX3 is inactivated in a number of malignancies, including breast cancer, and is suggested to function as a tumor suppressor. How RUNX3 functions as a tumor suppressor in breast cancer remains undefined. Here, we show that about 20% of female Runx3(+/-) mice spontaneously developed ductal carcinoma at an average age of 14.5 months. Additionally, RUNX3 inhibits the estrogen-dependent proliferation and transformation potential of ERα-positive MCF-7 breast cancer cells in liquid culture and in soft agar and suppresses the tumorigenicity of MCF-7 cells in severe combined immunodeficiency mice. Furthermore, RUNX3 inhibits ERα-dependent transactivation by reducing the stability of ERα. Consistent with its ability to regulate the levels of ERα, expression of RUNX3 inversely correlates with the expression of ERα in breast cancer cell lines, human breast cancer tissues and Runx3(+/-) mouse mammary tumors. By destabilizing ERα, RUNX3 acts as a novel tumor suppressor in breast cancer.


Small molecule inhibitors as probes for estrogen and androgen receptor action.

David J. Shapiro, Chengjian Mao, and Milu T. Cherian

J Biol Chem. 2011 Feb 11; 286(6):4043-8. Epub 2010 Dec 13.

Because activated estrogen (ER) and androgen (AR) receptors stimulate cell proliferation in breast and prostate cancer, inhibiting their actions represents a major therapeutic goal. Most efforts to modulate ER and AR activity have focused on inhibiting the synthesis of estrogens or androgens or on the identification of small molecules that act by competing with agonist hormones for binding in the ligand-binding pocket of the receptor. An alternative approach is to implement screens for small molecule inhibitors that target other sites in the pathway of steroid receptor action. Many of these second-site inhibitors directly target ER or AR; others have still unknown sites of action. Small molecule inhibitors that target second sites represent new leads with clinical potential; they serve as novel modulators of receptor action; and they can reveal new and as yet unidentified interactions and pathways that modulate ER and AR action.


Posttranscriptional suppression of proto-oncogene c-fms expression by vigilin in breast cancer.

Ho-Hyung Woo, Xiaofang Yi, Tiffany Lamb, Ina Menzl, Terri Baker, David J. Shapiro, and Setsuko K. Chambers

Mol Cell Biol. 2011 Jan; 31(1):215-25. Epub 2010 Oct 25.

cis-acting elements found in 3'-untranslated regions (UTRs) are regulatory signals determining mRNA stability and translational efficiency. By binding a novel non-AU-rich 69-nucleotide (nt) c-fms 3' UTR sequence, we previously identified HuR as a promoter of c-fms proto-oncogene mRNA. We now identify the 69-nt c-fms mRNA 3' UTR sequence as a cellular vigilin target through which vigilin inhibits the expression of c-fms mRNA and protein. Altering association of either vigilin or HuR with c-fms mRNA in vivo reciprocally affected mRNA association with the other protein. Mechanistic studies show that vigilin decreased c-fms mRNA stability. Furthermore, vigilin inhibited c-fms translation. Vigilin suppresses while HuR encourages cellular motility and invasion of breast cancer cells. In summary, we identified a competition for binding the 69-nt sequence, through which vigilin and HuR exert opposing effects on c-fms expression, suggesting a role for vigilin in suppression of breast cancer progression.


A noncompetitive small molecule inhibitor of estrogen-regulated gene expression and breast cancer cell growth that enhances proteasome-dependent degradation of estrogen receptor {alpha}.

Nicole M. Kretzer, Milu T. Cherian, Chengjian Mao, Irene O. Aninye, Philip D. Reynolds, Rachel Schiff, Paul J. Hergenrother, Steven K. Nordeen, Elizabeth M. Wilson, and David J. Shapiro

J Biol Chem. 2010 Dec 31; 285(53):41863-73. Epub 2010 Nov 1.

The mechanisms responsible for 17β-estradiol (E(2))-stimulated breast cancer growth and development of resistance to tamoxifen and other estrogen receptor α (ERα) antagonists are not fully understood. We describe a new tool for dissecting ERα action in breast cancer, p-fluoro-4-(1,2,3,6,-tetrahydro-1,3-dimethyl-2-oxo-6-thionpurin-8-ylthio) (TPSF), a potent small-molecule inhibitor of estrogen receptor α that does not compete with estrogen for binding to ERα. TPSF noncompetitively inhibits estrogen-dependent ERα-mediated gene expression with little inhibition of transcriptional activity by NF-κB or the androgen or glucocorticoid receptor. TPSF inhibits E(2)-ERα-mediated induction of the proteinase inhibitor 9 gene, which is activated by ERα binding to estrogen response element DNA, and the cyclin D1 gene, which is induced by tethering ERα to other DNA-bound proteins. TPSF inhibits anchorage-dependent and anchorage-independent E(2)-ERα-stimulated growth of MCF-7 cells but does not inhibit growth of ER-negative MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. TPSF also inhibits ERα-dependent growth in three cellular models for tamoxifen resistance; that is, 4-hydroxytamoxifen-stimulated MCF7ERαHA cells that overexpress ERα, fully tamoxifen-resistant BT474 cells that have amplified HER-2 and AIB1, and partially tamoxifen-resistant ZR-75 cells. TPSF reduces ERα protein levels in MCF-7 cells and several other cell lines without altering ERα mRNA levels. The proteasome inhibitor MG132 abolished down-regulation of ERα by TPSF. Thus, TPSF affects receptor levels at least in part due to its ability to enhance proteasome-dependent degradation of ERα. TPSF represents a novel class of ER inhibitor with significant clinical potential.


Differential requirements of Hsp90 and DNA for the formation of estrogen receptor homodimers and heterodimers.

Emily Powell, Yidan Wang, David J. Shapiro, and Wei Xu

J Biol Chem. 2010 May 21; 285(21):16125-34. Epub 2010 Mar 30.

The two estrogen receptor (ER) subforms, ERalpha and ERbeta, are capable of forming DNA-binding homodimers and heterodimers. Although binding to DNA is thought to stabilize ER dimers, how ERalpha/alpha, ERbeta/beta, and ERalpha/beta dimerization is regulated by DNA and the chaperone protein Hsp90 is poorly understood. Using our highly optimized bioluminescence resonance energy transfer assays in conjunction with assays for transcriptional activation of ERs, we determined that DNA binding appears to play a minor role in the stabilization of ER dimers, especially in the case of ERbeta/beta homodimers. These findings suggest that ER dimers form before they associate with chromatin and that DNA binding plays a minor role in stabilizing ER dimers. Additionally, although Hsp90 is essential for the proper dimerization of ERalpha/alpha and ERalpha/beta, it is not required for the proper dimerization of ERbeta/beta. Despite this, Hsp90 is critical for the estrogen-dependent transcriptional activity of the ERbeta/beta homodimer. Thus, Hsp90 is implicated as an important regulator of distinct aspects of ERalpha and ERbeta action.


Low concentrations of the soy phytoestrogen genistein induce proteinase inhibitor 9 and block killing of breast cancer cells by immune cells.

Xinguo Jiang, Nicole M. Patterson, Yan Ling, Jianwei Xie, William G. Helferich and David J. Shapiro

Endocrinology. 2008 Nov; 149(11):5366-73. Epub 2008 Jul 31.

The risks and benefits of diets and supplements containing the estrogenic soy isoflavone genistein are not well established. We report that 10 nm genistein potently induces the granzyme B inhibitor, proteinase inhibitor 9 (PI-9) in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. By inducing PI-9, genistein inhibits the ability of human natural killer (NK) cells to lyse the target breast cancer cells. In ERalphaHA cells, stably transfected MCF-7 cells, which contain elevated levels of estrogen receptor-alpha (ERalpha), 100 pm genistein or 17beta-estradiol potently induce PI-9 and prevent NK cells from killing the target breast cancer cells. The concentrations of genistein that fully induce PI-9 in MCF-7 cells, and in ERalphaHA cells, are far lower than those previously reported to elicit estrogenic responses through ERalpha. Because 4-hydroxytamoxifen, raloxifene, and ICI 182,780/Faslodex all block genistein induction of PI-9 and elevated levels of ERalpha enhance induction of PI-9, genistein acts via ERalpha to induce PI-9. Increasing levels of ERalpha in breast cancer cells results in a progressive increase in induction of PI-9 by genistein and in the cell's ability to evade killing by NK cells. Moderate levels of dietary genistein and soy flour effectively induce PI-9 in human breast cancers grown in ovariectomized athymic mice. A significant population consumes levels of genistein in soy products that may be high enough to induce PI-9, perhaps potentiating the survival of some preexisting breast cancers by enabling them to evade immunosurveillance.


A new small molecule inhibitor of estrogen receptor alpha binding to estrogen response elements blocks estrogen-dependent growth of cancer cells.

Chengjian Mao, Nicole M. Patterson, Milu T. Cherian, Irene O. Aninye, Chen Zhang, Jamie Bonéy Montoya, Jingwei Cheng, Karson S. Putt, Paul J. Hergenrother, Elizabeth M. Wilson, Ann M. Nardulli, Steven K. Nordeen, and David J. Shapiro

J Biol Chem. 2008 May 9; 283(19):12819-30. Epub 2008 Mar 12.

Estrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) plays an important role in several human cancers. Most current ERalpha antagonists bind in the receptor ligand binding pocket and compete for binding with estrogenic ligands. Instead of the traditional approach of targeting estrogen binding to ER, we describe a strategy using a high throughput fluorescence anisotropy microplate assay to identify small molecule inhibitors of ERalpha binding to consensus estrogen response element (cERE) DNA. We identified small molecule inhibitors of ERalpha binding to the fluorescein-labeled (fl)cERE and evaluated their specificity, potency, and efficacy. One small molecule, theophylline, 8-[(benzylthio)methyl]-(7CI,8CI) (TPBM), inhibited ERalpha binding to the flcERE (IC(50) approximately 3 microm) and inhibited ERalpha-mediated transcription of a stably transfected ERE-containing reporter gene. Inhibition by TPBM was ER-specific, because progesterone and glucocorticoid receptor transcriptional activity were not significantly inhibited. In tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer cells that overexpress ERalpha, TPBM inhibited 17beta-estradiol (E(2))-ERalpha (IC(50) 9 microm) and 4-hydroxytamoxifen-ERalpha-mediated gene expression. Chromatin immunoprecipitation showed TPBM reduced E(2).ERalpha recruitment to an endogenous estrogen-responsive gene. TPBM inhibited E(2)-dependent growth of ERalpha-positive cancer cells (IC(50) of 5 microm). TPBM is not toxic to cells and does not affect estrogen-independent cell growth. TPBM acts outside of the ER ligand binding pocket, does not act by chelating the zinc in ER zinc fingers, and differs from known ERalpha inhibitors. Using a simple high throughput screen for inhibitors of ERalpha binding to the cERE, a small molecule inhibitor has been identified that selectively inhibits ERalpha-mediated gene expression and estrogen-dependent growth of cancer cells.


Delayed and persistent ERK1/2 activation is required for 4-hydroxytamoxifen-induced cell death.

Jian-Hua Zhou, David V. Yu, Jingwei Cheng, and David J. Shapiro

Steroids. 2007 Oct; 72(11-12):765-77. Epub 2007 Jul 7.

Tamoxifen (Tam), and its active metabolite, 4-hydroxytamoxifen (OHT), compete with estrogens for binding to the estrogen receptor (ER). Tam and OHT can also induce ER-dependent apoptosis of cancer cells. 10-100nM OHT induces ER-dependent apoptosis in approximately 3 days. Using HeLaER6 cells, we examined the role of OHT activation of signal transduction pathways in OHT-ER-mediated apoptosis. OHT-ER activated the p38, JNK and ERK1/2 pathways. Inhibition of p38 activation with SB203580, or RNAi-knockdown of p38alpha, moderately reduced OHT-ER mediated cell death. A JNK inhibitor partly reduced cell death. Surprisingly, the MEK1/2 inhibitor, PD98059, completely blocked OHT-ER induced apoptosis. EGF, an ERK1/2 activator, enhanced OHT-induced apoptosis. OHT induced a delayed and persistent phosphorylation of ERK1/2 that persisted for >80h. Addition of PD98059 as late as 24h after OHT largely blocked OHT-ER mediated apoptosis. The antagonist, ICI 182,780, blocked both the long-term OHT-mediated phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and OHT-induced apoptosis. Our data suggests that the p38 and JNK pathways, which often play a central role in apoptosis, have only a limited role in OHT-ER-mediated cell death. Although rapid activation of the ERK1/2 pathway is often associated with cell growth, persistent activation of the ERK1/2 pathway is essential for OHT-ER induced cell death.


A functional serine 118 phosphorylation site in estrogen receptor-alpha is required for down-regulation of gene expression by 17beta-estradiol and 4-hydroxytamoxifen.

Jingwei Cheng, Chen Zhang, and David J. Shapiro

Endocrinology. 2007 Oct; 148(10):4634-41. Epub 2007 Jul 5.

To evaluate the contribution of ERK1/2 phosphorylation of estrogen receptor (ER)-alpha to activation and repression of endogenous genes, we produced stably transfected lines of HeLa cells with functional ERK1/2 pathways that express similar levels of wild-type human ERalpha and ERalpha mutated to inactivate the well-known MAPK site at serine 118 (ERalphaS118A). We compared effects of the S118A mutation on 17beta-estradiol (E(2))-mediated transactivation, which is heavily dependent on activation function (AF) 2 of ERalpha and on 4-hydroxytamoxifen (OHT)-mediated transactivation, which is heavily dependent on AF1, which includes S118. To examine whether S118 was the key ERK/MAPK phosphorylation site in ERalpha action, we compared the effects of the S118A mutant and the ERK inhibitor U0126 on expression of endogenous genes. In several estrogen response element-containing genes, the S118A mutation strongly reduced induction by E(2), and U0126 did not further reduce expression. Expression of another group of estrogen response element-containing genes was largely unaffected by the S118A mutation. The S118A mutation had variable effects on genes induced by ER tethering or binding near specificity protein-1 and activator protein-1 sites. For five mRNAs whose expression is strongly down-regulated by E(2) and partially or completely down-regulated by OHT, the S118A mutation reduced or abolished down-regulation by E(2) and nearly abolished down-regulation by OHT. In contrast, for Sma and mothers against decapentaplegic-3-related, which is down-regulated by E(2) and not OHT, the S118A mutation had little effect. These data suggest that there may be distinct groups of genes down-regulated by ERalpha and suggest a novel role for ERK phosphorylation at serine 118 in AF1 in regulating expression of the set of genes down-regulated by OHT.


Analysis of RNA-protein interactions by a microplate-based fluorescence anisotropy assay.

Chengjian Mao, Kathryn Goolsby Flavin, Stanley Wang, Robin Dodson, Jeffrey Ross, and David J. Shapiro

Anal Biochem. 2006 Mar 15; 350(2):222-32. Epub 2006 Jan 17.

Quantitative studies of RNA-protein interactions are quite cumbersome using traditional methods. We developed a rapid microplate-based fluorescence anisotropy (FA)/fluorescence polarization assay that works well, even with RNA probes >90 nucleotides long. We analyzed binding of RNA targets by vigilin/DDP1/SCP160p and by c-myc coding region instability determinant (CRD) binding protein, CRD-BP. Vigilin is essential for cell viability and functions in heterochromatin formation and mRNA decay. The CRD-BP stabilizes c-myc mRNA. Vigilin bound to a vitellogenin mRNA 3'-UTR probe with a two to three-fold lower affinity than to a Drosophila dodecasatellite ssDNA binding site and bound to the c-myc CRD with a two- to three-fold lower affinity than to the vitellogenin mRNA 3'-UTR. Competition between vigilin and CRD-BP for binding to the CRD may therefore play a role in regulating c-myc mRNA degradation. We analyzed suitability of the microplate-based FA assay for high-throughput screening for small-molecule regulators of RNA-protein interactions. The assay exhibits high reproducibility and precision and works well in 384-well plates and in 5 microl to 20 microl samples. To demonstrate the potential of this assay for screening libraries of small molecules to identify novel regulators of RNA-protein interactions, we identified neomycin and H33342 as inhibitors of binding of vigilin to the vitellogenin mRNA 3'-UTR.


Fluorescence anisotropy microplate assay for analysis of steroid receptor-DNA interactions.

Stanley Y. Wang, Bonnie S. Ahn, Rebecca Harris, Steven K. Nordeen, and David J. Shapiro

Biotechniques. 2004 Nov; 37(5):807-8, 810-7.

To analyze the interactions of steroid/nuclear hormone receptors with their DNA response elements, we used ultra low-volume microplates to develop a simple and rapid fluorescence anisotropy assay. The novel fluorescence anisotropy microplate assay (FAMA) was applied to the binding of estrogen and progesterone receptors (ER and PR, respectively) to their respective DNA response elements. The FAMA offers exceptional flexibility in its ability to test a variety of binding conditions and DNA response elements in real time. This assay can differentiate between, and quantitate, sequence-specific and nonspecific binding of receptors to DNA and offers the possibility of true solution analysis of the interaction of coregulators with the estrogen response element (ERE)-ER complex. To test suitability for screening large compound libraries, we demonstrated that the FAMA generates stable signals for more than 4 hours, is insensitive to inhibition by dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), and works well in 384-well plates. We analyzed inhibition of receptor-DNA interaction by several zinc chelators and demonstrated zinc dependence and a generally higher sensitivity to inhibition for PR-progesterone response element (PRE) interactions than for ER-ERE interactions. The FAMA is the first system suitable for screening large compound libraries to identify novel compounds that antagonize (or stimulate) binding of steroid receptors to their DNA response elements.


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