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Ann M Dorward, Kathryn L Shultz, and Wesley G Beamer

The reproductive hormone environment is an important influence upon spontaneous ovarian granulosa cell (GC) tumor development in genetically susceptible (SWR × SWXJ-9) F1 female mice: androgenic support during puberty stimulates tumorigenesis, while exposure to 17β-estradiol (E2) suppresses tumor initiation. We sought to determine whether gonadotropic stimulation was sufficient to initiate GC tumors in a grafted model system, and to determine the potential for dietary isoflavones (genistein and daidzein) as alternatives to E2 for tumor chemoprevention in vivo. Isolated ovaries from pre-pubertal (SWR × SWXJ-9) F1 females were transferred to the kidney capsule of host mice homozygous for the hypogonadal (hpg/hpg) and severe combined immunodeficiency (scid/scid) mutations. CB17; HPG-Prkdc scid Gnrh1 hpg/Bm host mice received either follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), or a functional analog for LH human chorionic gonadotropin for 2 consecutive weeks, at which time the ovary grafts were examined for evidence of tumor initiation. LH analog administration, but not FSH, initiated GC tumorigenesis in the graft system, suggesting that the LH surge at puberty initiates GC tumor development in genetically susceptible female mice. To assess the chemopreventive potential of phytoestrogens, GC tumor frequency was compared between (SWR × SWXJ-9) F1 females reared on an isoflavone-free diet versus a diet supplemented with 125 μg/g each of the isoflavones daidzein and genistein. It was observed that (SWR × SWXJ-9) F1 females reared on isoflavone-supplemented diet maintained significantly higher GC tumor frequency (22%) than females reared on isoflavone-free diet (11%), and that non-tumor-bearing siblings reared on the isoflavones had significantly increased ovarian weight, indicative of an overall stimulation of the reproductive hormone axis. The stimulation of GC tumorigenesis by isoflavones, which contrasts with the chemopreventive action of E2 (2.5 mg/kg) administration during pubertal maturation, may result from general stimulation of ovarian growth, and the inability of the genistein and daidzein supplements to suppress LH secretion.

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Giorgio Secreto, Paola Muti, Milena Sant, Elisabetta Meneghini, and Vittorio Krogh

Five years of adjuvant therapy with anti-estrogens reduce the incidence of disease progression by about 50% in estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer patients, but late relapse can still occur after anti-estrogens have been discontinued. In these patients, excessive androgen production may account for renewed excessive estrogen formation and increased risks of late relapse. In the 50% of patients who do not benefit with anti-estrogens, the effect of therapy is limited by de novo or acquired resistance to treatment. Androgen receptor and epidermal growth factor receptor overexpression are recognized mechanisms of endocrine resistance suggesting the involvement of androgens as activators of the androgen receptor pathway and as stimulators of epidermal growth factor synthesis and function. Data from a series of prospective studies on operable breast cancer patients, showing high serum testosterone levels are associated to increased risk of recurrence, provide further support to a role for androgens in breast cancer progression. According to the above reported evidence, we proposed to counteract excessive androgen production in the adjuvant setting of estrogen receptor-positive patients and suggested selecting postmenopausal patients with elevated levels of serum testosterone, marker of ovarian hyperandrogenemia, for adjuvant treatment with a gonadotropins-releasing hormone analogue (medical oophorectomy) in addition to standard therapy with anti-estrogens. The proposed approach provides an attempt of personalized medicine that needs to be further investigated in clinical trials.

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Amanda Schech, Stephen Yu, Olga Goloubeva, John McLenithan, and Gauri Sabnis

Obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer progression. Breast cancer patients who are overweight or obese or have excess abdominal fat have an increased risk of local or distant recurrence and cancer-related death. Hormone depletion therapies can also cause weight gain, exacerbating the risk for these patients. To understand the effect of obesity on hormone-dependent human breast cancer tumors, we fed ovariectomized athymic nude mice a diet containing 45% kcal fat and 17% kcal sucrose (high fat sucrose diet (HFSD)), 10% kcal fat (low fat diet (LFD)), or a standard chow diet (chow). The mice fed the HFSD developed metabolic abnormalities consistent with the development of obesity such as weight gain, high fasting blood glucose, and impaired glucose tolerance. These mice also developed hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance. The obese mice also had a higher tumor growth rate compared to the lean mice. Furthermore, the obese mice showed a significantly reduced responsiveness to letrozole. To understand the role of obesity in this reduced responsiveness, we examined the effect of insulin on the growth of MCF-7Ca cells in response to estrogen or letrozole. The presence of insulin rendered MCF-7Ca cells less responsive to estrogen and letrozole. Exogenous insulin treatment of MCF-7Ca cells also resulted in increased p-Akt as well as ligand-independent phosphorylation of ERα. These findings suggest that diet-induced obesity may result in reduced responsiveness of tumors to letrozole due to the development of hyperinsulinemia. We conclude that obesity influences the response and resistance of breast cancer tumors to aromatase inhibitor treatment.

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Silvia Darb-Esfahani, Ralph M Wirtz, Bruno V Sinn, Jan Budczies, Aurelia Noske, Wilko Weichert, Areeg Faggad, Susanne Scharff, Jalid Sehouli, Guelten Oskay-Özcelik, Claudio Zamagni, Pierandrea De Iaco, Andrea Martoni, Manfred Dietel, and Carsten Denkert

Epidemiological and cell culture studies indicate that ovarian carcinoma growth is dependent on estrogen stimulation. However, possibly due to the lack of a reliable biomarker that helps to select patients according to prognostically relevant estrogen receptor (ER) levels, clinical trials using anti-estrogenic therapeutics in ovarian carcinoma have had inconsistent results. Therefore, we tested if ER expression analysis by a quantitative method might be useful in this regard in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue. In a study group of 114 primary ovarian carcinomas expression of estrogen receptor 1 (ESR1) mRNA was analyzed using a new method for RNA extraction from FFPE tissue that is based on magnetic beads, followed by kinetic PCR. The prognostic impact of ESR1 mRNA expression was investigated and compared to ERα protein expression as determined by immunohistochemistry. In univariate survival analysis the expression level of ESR1 mRNA was a significant positive prognostic factor for patient survival (hazard ratio (HR) 0.230 (confidence interval (CI) 0.102–0.516), P=0.002). ERα protein expression was correlated to ESR1 mRNA expression (P=0.0001); however, ERα protein expression did not provide statistically significant prognostic information. In multivariate analysis, ESR1 mRNA expression emerged as a prognostic factor, independent of stage, grade, residual tumor mass, age, and ERα protein expression (HR 0.227 (CI 0.078–0.656), P=0.006). Our results indicate that the determination of ESR1 levels by kinetic PCR may be superior to immunohistochemical methods in assessment of biologically relevant levels of ER expression in ovarian carcinoma, and is feasible in routinely used FFPE tissue.

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M Wijnen, M M van den Heuvel-Eibrink, M Medici, R P Peeters, A J van der Lely, and S J C M M Neggers

Long-term adverse health conditions, including secondary malignant neoplasms, are common in childhood cancer survivors. Although mortality attributable to secondary malignancies declined over the past decades, the risk for developing a solid secondary malignant neoplasm did not. Endocrine-related malignancies are among the most common secondary malignant neoplasms observed in childhood cancer survivors. In this systematic review, we describe risk factors for secondary malignant neoplasms of the breast and thyroid, since these are the most common secondary endocrine-related malignancies in childhood cancer survivors. Radiotherapy is the most important risk factor for secondary breast and thyroid cancer in childhood cancer survivors. Breast cancer risk is especially increased in survivors of Hodgkin lymphoma who received moderate- to high-dosed mantle field irradiation. Recent studies also demonstrated an increased risk after lower-dose irradiation in other radiation fields for other childhood cancer subtypes. Premature ovarian insufficiency may protect against radiation-induced breast cancer. Although evidence is weak, estrogen–progestin replacement therapy does not seem to be associated with an increased breast cancer risk in premature ovarian-insufficient childhood cancer survivors. Radiotherapy involving the thyroid gland increases the risk for secondary differentiated thyroid carcinoma, as well as benign thyroid nodules. Currently available studies on secondary malignant neoplasms in childhood cancer survivors are limited by short follow-up durations and assessed before treatment regimens. In addition, studies on risk-modifying effects of environmental and lifestyle factors are lacking. Risk-modifying effects of premature ovarian insufficiency and estrogen–progestin replacement therapy on radiation-induced breast cancer require further study.

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Shelby M King, Tyvette S Hilliard, Lucia Y Wu, Randal C Jaffe, Asgerally T Fazleabas, and Joanna E Burdette

Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecological malignancy affecting American women. Current hypotheses concerning the etiology of ovarian cancer propose that a reduction in the lifetime number of ovulations decreases ovarian cancer risk. Advanced serous carcinoma shares several biomarkers with fallopian tube epithelial cells, suggesting that some forms of ovarian carcinoma may originate in the fallopian tube. Currently, the impact of ovulation on the tubal epithelium is unknown. In CD1 mice, ovulation did not increase tubal epithelial cell (TEC) proliferation as measured by bromodeoxyuridine incorporation and proliferating cell nuclear antigen staining as compared to unstimulated animals. In superovulated mice, an increase in the number of pro-inflammatory macrophages was detected in the oviduct. Ovulation also increased levels of phospho-γH2A.X in TEC, indicating that these cells were susceptible to double-strand DNA breakage following ovulation. To determine which components of ovulation contributed to DNA damage in the fallopian tube, an immortalized baboon TEC cell line and a three-dimensional organ culture system for mouse oviduct and baboon fallopian tubes were developed. TEC did not proliferate or display increased DNA damage in response to the gonadotropins or estradiol alone in vitro. Oxidative stress generated by treatment with hydrogen peroxide or macrophage-conditioned medium increased DNA damage in TEC in culture. Ovulation may impact the fallopian tube epithelium by generating DNA damage and stimulating macrophage infiltration but does not increase proliferation through gonadotropin signaling.

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R A Stein and D P McDonnell

The orphan receptor estrogen-related receptor α (ERRα) is a member of the nuclear receptor superfamily of ligand-regulated transcription factors. This protein is structurally most related to the canonical estrogen receptor and has been shown to modulate estrogen signaling in some contexts. These observations have heightened interest in ERRα as a therapeutic target in both breast and ovarian cancer and in other estrogenopathies. This review details our present understanding of ERRα action with a view to highlight specific aspects of its signal-transduction pathway in breast cancer that may be amenable to pharmaceutical manipulation.

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Bruno M Simões, Denis G Alferez, Sacha J Howell, and Robert B Clarke

Breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs) are potent tumor-initiating cells in breast cancer, the most common cancer among women. BCSCs have been suggested to play a key role in tumor initiation which can lead to disease progression and formation of metastases. Moreover, BCSCs are thought to be the unit of selection for therapy-resistant clones since they survive conventional treatments, such as chemotherapy, irradiation, and hormonal therapy. The importance of the role of hormones for both normal mammary gland and breast cancer development is well established, but it was not until recently that the effects of hormones on BCSCs have been investigated. This review will discuss recent studies highlighting how ovarian steroid hormones estrogen and progesterone, as well as therapies against them, can regulate BCSC activity.

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Daniel Medina

The ovarian hormones, estrogen and progesterone, play a pivotal role in normal and neoplastic development of the mammary gland. These hormones have a paradoxical role as long duration of estrogen and progesterone are associated with increased breast cancer risk, while short duration of pregnancy level doses are associated with a reduced breast cancer risk. The protective effects of estrogen and progesterone, as well as pregnancy, have been extensively studied in animal models. Recent studies have demonstrated that these hormones induce alterations in gene expression in the mammary epithelial cells which persist for a long time after the hormones are withdrawn from the host. It is postulated that hormones induce a switch in mammary developmental fate which decreases the risk of breast cancer over the lifetime of the host. Some of the possible cellular pathways persistently altered by short term hormone exposure are a decrease in growth factors and an increase in apoptosis. The expression of these genes, in turn, may be affected by alterations in genes regulating chromatin remodeling. The relative contributions of host-mediated factors and mammary cell intrinsic factors remain to be determined. The current studies have moved this research area from the biological to the molecular realm and offer the potential for directing prevention efforts at specific molecular targets.

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Anna Konwisorz, Anette Springwald, Martina Haselberger, Regina Goerse, Olaf Ortmann, and Oliver Treeck

ICB-1 chromosome 1 open reading frame 38 (C1orf38) is a human gene initially described by our group to be involved in differentiation processes of cancer cells. Recently, we have reported ICB-1 as a novel estrogen target gene and identified an estrogen response element in its promoter. In this study, we examined the role of ICB-1 in regulation of proliferation of breast and ovarian cancer cells. We knocked down its expression in estrogen-dependent MCF-7 breast cancer cells and hormone-unresponsive SK-OV-3 ovarian cancer cells by stable transfection with a specific shRNA plasmid followed by G-418 selection. Knockdown of ICB-1 enabled a considerable estrogen response of SK-OV-3 cells in terms of proliferation. This transformation of SK-OV-3 cells into an estrogen-responsive phenotype was accompanied by upregulation of estrogen receptor α (ERα) expression and a significant decrease of ERβ expression on the mRNA level. Expression of ERα-dependent genes progesterone receptor, pS2, fibulin 1c, and c-fos was elevated in SK-OV-3 cells stably expressing ICB-1 shRNA. In MCF-7 cells, ICB-1 knockdown exerted similar effects on gene expression, supporting a general role of ICB-1 in estrogen responsiveness. Our data suggest that differentiation-associated gene ICB-1 might exert antagonistic actions on cellular estrogen response, which can result in inhibition of estradiol-triggered proliferation. The molecular mechanisms mediating this inhibitory effect of ICB-1 on estrogen signaling are suggested to be limitation of ERα transcript levels but sustaining high levels of ERβ, reducing both activation of ERα target genes and cellular proliferation. The identification of ICB-1 as a new player in endocrine-related cancer encourages further studies on the significance of this gene in cancer development and therapy.