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Fabia De Oliveira Andrade, Wei Yu, Xiyuan Zhang, Elissa Carney, Rong Hu, Robert Clarke, Kevin FitzGerald and Leena Hilakivi-Clarke

Resistance to endocrine therapy remains a clinical challenge in the treatment of estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer. We investigated if adding a traditional Asian herbal mixture consisting of 12 herbs, called Jaeumkanghwa-tang (JEKHT), to tamoxifen (TAM) therapy might prevent resistance and recurrence in the ER+ breast cancer model of 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-exposed Sprague–Dawley rats. Rats were divided into four groups treated as follows: 15 mg/kg TAM administered via diet as TAM citrate (TAM only); 500 mg/kg JEKHT administered via drinking water (JEKHT only group); TAM + JEKHT and no treatment control group. The study was replicated using two different batches of JEKHT. In both studies, a significantly higher proportion of ER+ mammary tumors responded to TAM if animals also were treated with JEKHT (experiment 1: 47% vs 65%, P = 0.015; experiment 2: 43% vs 77%, P < 0.001). The risk of local recurrence also was reduced (31% vs 12%, P = 0.002). JEKHT alone was mostly ineffective. In addition, JEKHT prevented the development of premalignant endometrial lesions in TAM-treated rats (20% in TAM only vs 0% in TAM + JEKHT). Co-treatment of antiestrogen-resistant LCC9 human breast cancer cells with 1.6 mg/mL JEKHT reversed their TAM resistance in dose–response studies in vitro. Several traditional herbal medicine preparations can exhibit anti-inflammatory properties and may increase anti-tumor immune activities in the tumor microenvironment. In the tumors of rats treated with both JEKHT and TAM, expression of Il-6 (P = 0.03), Foxp3/T regulatory cell (Treg) marker (P = 0.033) and Tgfβ1 that activates Tregs (P < 0.001) were significantly downregulated compared with TAM only group. These findings indicate that JEKHT may prevent TAM-induced evasion of tumor immune responses.

Free access

Rebecca B Riggins, Mary M Mazzotta, Omar Z Maniya and Robert Clarke

Nuclear receptors comprise a large family of highly conserved transcription factors that regulate many key processes in normal and neoplastic tissues. Most nuclear receptors share a common, highly conserved domain structure that includes a carboxy-terminal ligand-binding domain. However, a subgroup of this gene family is known as the orphan nuclear receptors because to date there are no known natural ligands that regulate their activity. Many of the 25 nuclear receptors classified as orphan play critical roles in embryonic development, metabolism, and the regulation of circadian rhythm. Here, we review the emerging role(s) of orphan nuclear receptors in breast cancer, with a particular focus on two of the estrogen-related receptors (ERRα and ERRγ) and several others implicated in clinical outcome and response or resistance to cytotoxic or endocrine therapies, including the chicken ovalbumin upstream promoter transcription factors, nerve growth factor-induced B, DAX-1, liver receptor homolog-1, and retinoic acid-related orphan receptor α. We also propose that a clearer understanding of the function of orphan nuclear receptors in mammary gland development and normal mammary tissues could significantly improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent breast cancer.

Restricted access

Robert Clarke, John J Tyson, Ming Tan, William T Baumann, Lu Jin, Jianhua Xuan and Yue Wang

Drawing on concepts from experimental biology, computer science, informatics, mathematics, and statistics, systems biologists integrate data across diverse platforms and scales of time and space to create computational and mathematical models of the integrative, holistic functions of living systems. Endocrine-related cancers are well suited to study from a systems perspective because of the signaling complexities arising from the roles of growth factors, hormones, and their receptors as critical regulators of cancer cell biology and from the interactions among cancer cells, normal cells, and signaling molecules in the tumor microenvironment. Moreover, growth factors, hormones, and their receptors are often effective targets for therapeutic intervention, such as estrogen biosynthesis, estrogen receptors, or HER2 in breast cancer, and androgen receptors in prostate cancer. Given the complexity underlying the molecular control networks in these cancers, a simple, intuitive understanding of how endocrine-related cancers respond to therapeutic protocols has proved incomplete and unsatisfactory. Systems biology offers an alternative paradigm for understanding these cancers and their treatment. To correctly interpret the results of systems-based studies requires some knowledge of how in silico models are built, and how they are used to describe a system and to predict the effects of perturbations on system function. In this review, we provide a general perspective on the field of cancer systems biology, and we explore some of the advantages, limitations, and pitfalls associated with using predictive multiscale modeling to study endocrine-related cancers.

Free access

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.

Free access

Barbara Kuske, Catherine Naughton, Kate Moore, Kenneth G MacLeod, William R Miller, Robert Clarke, Simon P Langdon and David A Cameron

Hormone-dependent estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer cells may adapt to low estrogen environments such as produced by aromatase inhibitors. In many instances, cells become insensitive to the effects of estrogen but may still retain dependence on ER. We have investigated the expression, function, and activation of ERα in two endocrine-resistant MCF-7 models to identify mechanisms that could contribute to resistance. While MCF-7/LCC1 cells are partially estrogen dependent, MCF-7/LCC9 cells are fully estrogen insensitive and fulvestrant and tamoxifen resistant. In both MCF-7/LCC1 and MCF-7/LCC9 cell lines, high expression of ERα was associated with enhanced binding to the trefoil factor 1 (TFF1) promoter in the absence of estrogen and increased transcription of TFF1 and progesterone receptor. In contrast to the observations derived from hypersensitive and supersensitive models, these cells were truly estrogen independent; nevertheless, removal of ERα by siRNA, or fulvestrant, a specific ER downregulator, inhibited growth indicating dependence on ERα. In the absence of estrogen, neither ERα Ser118 nor Ser167 were phosphorylated as frequently found in other ligand-independent cell line models. Addition of estrogen activated ERα Ser118 in MCF-7 and LCC1 cells but not in LCC9 cells. We suggest that the estrogen-independent growth within these cell lines is accounted for by high levels of ERα expression driving transcription and full estrogen independence explained by lack of ERα activation through Ser118.

Free access

Allison Sumis, Katherine L Cook, Fabia O Andrade, Rong Hu, Emma Kidney, Xiyuan Zhang, Dominic Kim, Elissa Carney, Nguyen Nguyen, Wei Yu, Kerrie B Bouker, Idalia Cruz, Robert Clarke and Leena Hilakivi-Clarke

Social isolation is a strong predictor of early all-cause mortality and consistently increases breast cancer risk in both women and animal models. Because social isolation increases body weight, we compared its effects to those caused by a consumption of obesity-inducing diet (OID) in C57BL/6 mice. Social isolation and OID impaired insulin and glucose sensitivity. In socially isolated, OID-fed mice (I-OID), insulin resistance was linked to reduced Pparg expression and increased neuropeptide Y levels, but in group-housed OID fed mice (G-OID), it was linked to increased leptin and reduced adiponectin levels, indicating that the pathways leading to insulin resistance are different. Carcinogen-induced mammary tumorigenesis was significantly higher in I-OID mice than in the other groups, but cancer risk was also increased in socially isolated, control diet-fed mice (I-C) and G-OID mice compared with that in controls. Unfolded protein response (UPR) signaling (GRP78; IRE1) was upregulated in the mammary glands of OID-fed mice, but not in control diet-fed, socially isolated I-C mice. In contrast, expression of BECLIN1, ATG7 and LC3II were increased, and p62 was downregulated by social isolation, indicating increased autophagy. In the mammary glands of socially isolated mice, but not in G-OID mice, mRNA expressions of p53 and the p53-regulated autophagy inducer Dram1 were upregulated, and nuclear p53 staining was strong. Our findings further indicated that autophagy and tumorigenesis were not increased in Atg7+/− mice kept in social isolation and fed OID. Thus, social isolation may increase breast cancer risk by inducing autophagy, independent of changes in body weight.

Free access

Chellappagounder Thangavel, Jeffry L Dean, Adam Ertel, Karen E Knudsen, C Marcelo Aldaz, Agnieszka K Witkiewicz, Robert Clarke and Erik S Knudsen

The majority of estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancers are treated with endocrine therapy. While this is effective, acquired resistance to therapies targeted against ER is a major clinical challenge. Here, model systems of ER-positive breast cancers with differential susceptibility to endocrine therapy were employed to define common nodes for new therapeutic interventions. These analyses revealed that cell cycle progression is effectively uncoupled from the activity and functional state of ER in these models. In this context, cyclin D1 expression and retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein (RB) phosphorylation are maintained even with efficient ablation of ER with pure antagonists. These therapy-resistant models recapitulate a key feature of deregulated RB/E2F transcriptional control. Correspondingly, a gene expression signature of RB-dysfunction is associated with luminal B breast cancer, which exhibits a relatively poor response to endocrine therapy. These collective findings suggest that suppression of cyclin D-supported kinase activity and restoration of RB-mediated transcriptional repression could represent a viable therapeutic option in tumors that fail to respond to hormone-based therapies. Consistent with this hypothesis, a highly selective CDK4/6 inhibitor, PD-0332991, was effective at suppressing the proliferation of all hormone refractory models analyzed. Importantly, PD-0332991 led to a stable cell cycle arrest that was fundamentally distinct from those elicited by ER antagonists, and was capable of inducing aspects of cellular senescence in hormone therapy refractory cell populations. These findings underscore the clinical utility of downstream cytostatic therapies in treating tumors that have experienced failure of endocrine therapy.