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Keywords:

  • aromatase;
  • breast cancer;
  • xenografts;
  • HER-2

Abstract

The authors developed a breast cancer intratumoral aromatase model system to compare the antitumor efficacy of several aromatase inhibitors (AIs) and antiestrogens (AEs). Although the AI letrozole caused sustained growth inhibition, tumors eventually began to grow, even when treatment was maintained. For the current study, the mechanisms of resistance to letrozole during the course of treatment were investigated. Estrogen receptor α (ER-α) levels decreased below control levels in letrozole-resistant tumors. The decrease was simultaneous to an increase in phosphorylation of ER-α and an unaltered expression of progesterone receptor (PgR). Expression levels of HER-2, activated (phosphorylated) SHC-adaptor protein (p-Shc), growth factor receptor-bound protein 2 (Grb-2), p-Raf, phosphorylated mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1/2 (p-Mekl/2), and phosphorylated mitogen-activated protein kinase (p-MAPK) were increased. When cells isolated from letrozole-resistant tumors (LTLTCa cells) were treated with inhibitors of the HER-2 signaling pathway, ER-α expression and estradiol-stimulated transactivation was restored. The HER-2 blocker trastuzumab also restored the sensitivity of LTLTCa cells to AIs and AEs. These findings suggested that there is crosstalk between ER and HER-2 signaling. To prevent activation of the HER-2 pathway and resistance to AIs, mice were treated with a combination of AIs and the ER down-regulator fulvestrant. There was no increase in HER-2 or p-MAPK expression, and tumor growth was inhibited significantly. When trastuzumab was added to unresponsive tumors under letrozole treatment, it significantly inhibited tumors growth compared with switching to trastuzumab alone. However, the trastuzumab plus letrozole combination was more effective than letrozole alone only in refractory breast tumors. These results suggested that blocking both ER and HER-2 signaling may delay the development of resistance to AIs in patients with recurrent breast cancer. Cancer 2008. © 2007 American Cancer Society.