Regulation of estrogen receptor alpha by the tumor suppressor p53 in breast cancer cells

Stephanie Harkey Shirley, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Estrogen receptor (ER) and the tumor suppressor p53 are key prognostic indicators in breast cancer. Estrogen signaling through its receptor (ER) controls proliferation of normal as well as transformed mammary epithelial cells, and the presence of ER is established as a marker of good prognosis and response to therapy. The p53 tumor suppressor gene is often referred to as the "cellular gatekeeper" due to its extensive control of cell proliferation and apoptosis. Loss of functional p53 is a negative prognostic indicator and is correlated with lack of response to antiestrogens, reduced disease-free interval and increased chance of disease recurrence. Clinical studies have demonstrated that tumors with mutated p53 tend to be ER negative, while ER positive tumors tend to have wild type p53. Recent studies from our lab indicate that p53 genotype correlates with estrogen receptor expression in mammary tumors in vivo. We therefore hypothesized that p53 regulates ER expression in mammary cancer cells by recruitment of specific cofactors to the ER promoter. To test this, MCF-7 cells were treated with doxorubicin or ionizing radiation, both of which stimulated significant increases in p53 expression, as expected, but also increased ER expression in a p53-dependent manner. Furthermore, in cells treated with siRNA targeting p53, both p53 and ER protein levels were significantly reduced. P53 was also demonstrated to transcriptionally regulate the ER promoter in luciferase assays and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays showed that p53 was recruited to the ER promoter along with CARM1, CBP, c-Jun and Sp1 and that this multifactor complex was formed in a p53-dependent manner. The regulation of ER by p53 has therapeutic implications, as the treatment of breast cancer cells with doxorubicin sensitized these cells to tamoxifen treatment. Furthermore, response to tamoxifen as well as to estrogen was dependent on p53 expression in ER positive human breast cancer cells. Taken together, these data demonstrate that p53 regulates ER expression through transcriptional control of the ER promoter, accounting for their concordant expression in human breast cancer and identifying potentially beneficial therapeutic strategies for the treatment of ER positive breast cancers.

Subject Area

Molecular biology|Medicine

Recommended Citation

Shirley, Stephanie Harkey, "Regulation of estrogen receptor alpha by the tumor suppressor p53 in breast cancer cells" (2008). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3339623.