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Carolyn M Klinge

The human genome is ‘pervasively transcribed’ leading to a complex array of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) that far outnumber coding mRNAs. ncRNAs have regulatory roles in transcription and post-transcriptional processes as well numerous cellular functions that remain to be fully described. Best characterized of the ‘expanding universe’ of ncRNAs are the ~22 nucleotide microRNAs (miRNAs) that base-pair to target mRNA’s 3′ untranslated region within the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) and block translation and may stimulate mRNA transcript degradation. Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are classified as >200 nucleotides in length, but range up to several kb and are heterogeneous in genomic origin and function. lncRNAs fold into structures that interact with DNA, RNA and proteins to regulate chromatin dynamics, protein complex assembly, transcription, telomere biology and splicing. Some lncRNAs act as sponges for miRNAs and decoys for proteins. Nuclear-encoded lncRNAs can be taken up by mitochondria and lncRNAs are transcribed from mtDNA. Both miRNAs and lncRNAs are dysregulated in endocrine cancers. This review provides an overview on the current understanding of the regulation and function of selected lncRNAs and miRNAs, and their interaction, in endocrine-related cancers: breast, prostate, endometrial and thyroid.

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Penn Muluhngwi and Carolyn M Klinge

Therapies targeting estrogen receptor alpha (ERα), including selective ER modulators such as tamoxifen, selective ER downregulators such as fulvestrant (ICI 182 780), and aromatase inhibitors such as letrozole, are successfully used in treating breast cancer patients whose initial tumor expresses ERα. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of endocrine therapies is limited by acquired resistance. The role of microRNAs (miRNAs) in the progression of endocrine-resistant breast cancer is of keen interest in developing biomarkers and therapies to counter metastatic disease. This review focuses on miRNAs implicated as disruptors of antiestrogen therapies, their bona fide gene targets and associated pathways promoting endocrine resistance.

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Stephanie Metcalf, Belinda J Petri, Traci Kruer, Benjamin Green, Susan Dougherty, James L Wittliff, Carolyn M Klinge, and Brian F Clem

Estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer (ER+ BC) is the most common form of breast carcinoma accounting for approximately 70% of all diagnoses. Although ER-targeted therapies have improved survival outcomes for this BC subtype, a significant proportion of patients will ultimately develop resistance to these clinical interventions, resulting in disease recurrence. Phosphoserine aminotransferase 1 (PSAT1), an enzyme within the serine synthetic pathway (SSP), has been previously implicated in endocrine resistance. Therefore, we determined whether expression of SSP enzymes, PSAT1 or phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase (PHGDH), affects the response of ER+ BC to 4-hydroxytamoxifen (4-OHT) treatment. To investigate a clinical correlation between PSAT1, PHGDH, and endocrine resistance, we examined microarray data from ER+ patients who received tamoxifen as the sole endocrine therapy. We confirmed that higher PSAT1 and PHGDH expression correlates negatively with poorer outcomes in tamoxifen-treated ER+ BC patients. Next, we found that SSP enzyme expression and serine synthesis were elevated in tamoxifen-resistant compared to tamoxifen-sensitive ER+ BC cells in vitro. To determine relevance to endocrine sensitivity, we modified the expression of either PSAT1 or PHGDH in each cell type. Overexpression of PSAT1 in tamoxifen-sensitive MCF-7 cells diminished 4-OHT inhibition on cell proliferation. Conversely, silencing of either PSAT1 or PHGDH resulted in greater sensitivity to 4-OHT treatment in LCC9 tamoxifen-resistant cells. Likewise, the combination of a PHGDH inhibitor with 4-OHT decreased LCC9 cell proliferation. Collectively, these results suggest that overexpression of serine synthetic pathway enzymes contribute to tamoxifen resistance in ER+ BC, which can be targeted as a novel combinatorial treatment option.

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Susan M Dougherty, Williard Mazhawidza, Aimee R Bohn, Krista A Robinson, Kathleen A Mattingly, Kristy A Blankenship, Mary O Huff, William G McGregor, and Carolyn M Klinge

The higher frequency of lung adenocarcinoma in women smokers than in men smokers suggests a role for gender-dependent factors in the etiology of lung cancer. We evaluated estrogen receptor (ER) α and β expression and activity in human lung adenocarcinoma cell lines and normal lung fibroblasts. Full-length ERα and ERβ proteins were expressed in all cell lines with higher ERβ than ERα. Although estradiol (E2) binding was similar, E2 stimulated proliferation only in cells from females, and this response was inhibited by anti-estrogens 4-hydroxytamoxifen (4-OHT) and ICI 182,780. In contrast, E2 did not stimulate replication of lung adenocarcinoma cells from males and 4-OHT or ICI did not block cell proliferation. Similarly, transcription of an estrogen response element-driven reporter gene was stimulated by E2 in lung adenocarcinoma cells from females, but not males. Progesterone receptor (PR) expression was increased by E2 in two out of five adenocarcinoma cell lines from females, but none from males. E2 decreased E-cadherin protein expression in some of the cell lines from females, as it did in MCF-7 breast cancer cells, but not in the cell lines from males. Thus, ERα and ERβ expression does not correlate with the effect of ER ligands on cellular activities in lung adenocarcinoma cells. On the other hand, coactivator DRIP205 expression was higher in lung adenocarcinoma cells from females versus males and higher in adenocarcinoma cells than in normal human bronchial epithelial cells. DRIP205 and other ER coregulators may contribute to differences in estrogen responsiveness between lung adenocarcinoma cells in females and males.