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Neil Portman, Sarah Alexandrou, Emma Carson, Shudong Wang, Elgene Lim and C Elizabeth Caldon

Three inhibitors of CDK4/6 kinases were recently FDA approved for use in combination with endocrine therapy, and they significantly increase the progression-free survival of patients with advanced estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer in the first-line treatment setting. As the new standard of care in some countries, there is the clinical emergence of patients with breast cancer that is both CDK4/6 inhibitor and endocrine therapy resistant. The strategies to combat these cancers with resistance to multiple treatments are not yet defined and represent the next major clinical challenge in ER+ breast cancer. In this review, we discuss how the molecular landscape of endocrine therapy resistance may affect the response to CDK4/6 inhibitors, and how this intersects with biomarkers of intrinsic insensitivity. We identify the handful of pre-clinical models of acquired resistance to CDK4/6 inhibitors and discuss whether the molecular changes in these models are likely to be relevant or modified in the context of endocrine therapy resistance. Finally, we consider the crucial question of how some of these changes are potentially amenable to therapy.

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Elgene Lim, Gerard Tarulli, Neil Portman, Theresa E Hickey, Wayne D Tilley and Carlo Palmieri

The estrogen receptor-α (herein called ER) is a nuclear sex steroid receptor (SSR) that is expressed in approximately 75% of breast cancers. Therapies that modulate ER action have substantially improved the survival of patients with ER-positive breast cancer, but resistance to treatment still remains a major clinical problem. Treating resistant breast cancer requires co-targeting of ER and alternate signalling pathways that contribute to resistance to improve the efficacy and benefit of currently available treatments. Emerging data have shown that other SSRs may regulate the sites at which ER binds to DNA in ways that can powerfully suppress the oncogenic activity of ER in breast cancer. This includes the progesterone receptor (PR) that was recently shown to reprogram the ER DNA binding landscape towards genes associated with a favourable outcome. Another attractive candidate is the androgen receptor (AR), which is expressed in the majority of breast cancers and inhibits growth of the normal breast and ER-positive tumours when activated by ligand. These findings have led to the initiation of breast cancer clinical trials evaluating therapies that selectively harness the ability of SSRs to ‘push’ ER towards anti-tumorigenic activity. Our review will focus on the established and emerging clinical evidence for activating PR or AR in ER-positive breast cancer to inhibit the tumour growth-promoting functions of ER.

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KeeMing Chia, Heloisa Milioli, Neil Portman, Geraldine Laven-Law, Rhiannon Coulson, Aliza Yong, Davendra Segara, Andrew Parker, Catherine E Caldon, Niantao Deng, Alexander Swarbrick, Wayne D Tilley, Theresa E Hickey and Elgene Lim

The role of androgen receptor (AR) in endocrine-resistant breast cancer is controversial and clinical trials targeting AR with an AR antagonist (e.g., enzalutamide) have been initiated. Here, we investigated the consequence of AR antagonism using in vitro and in vivo models of endocrine resistance. AR antagonism in MCF7-derived tamoxifen-resistant (TamR) and long-term estrogen-deprived breast cancer cell lines were achieved using siRNA-mediated knockdown or pharmacological inhibition with enzalutamide. The efficacy of enzalutamide was further assessed in vivo in an estrogen-independent endocrine-resistant patient-derived xenograft (PDX) model. Knockdown of AR inhibited the growth of the endocrine-resistant cell line models. Microarray gene expression profiling of the TamR cells following AR knockdown revealed perturbations in proliferative signaling pathways upregulated in endocrine resistance. AR loss also increased some canonical ER signaling events and restored sensitivity of TamR cells to tamoxifen. In contrast, enzalutamide did not recapitulate the effect of AR knockdown in vitro, even though it inhibited canonical AR signaling, which suggests that it is the non-canonical AR activity that facilitated endocrine resistance. Enzalutamide had demonstrable efficacy in inhibiting AR activity in vivo but did not affect the growth of the endocrine-resistant PDX model. Our findings implicate non-canonical AR activity in facilitating an endocrine-resistant phenotype in breast cancer. Unlike canonical AR signaling which is inhibited by enzalutamide, non-canonical AR activity is not effectively antagonized by enzalutamide, and this has important implications in the design of future AR-targeted clinical trials in endocrine-resistant breast cancer.