To test directly the role of breast-tissue estrogen in initiation of breast cancer, we have developed the aromatase-transgenic mouse model and demonstrated for the first time that increased mammary estrogens resulting from the overexpression of aromatase in mammary glands lead to the induction of various preneoplastic and neoplastic changes that are similar to early breast cancer. Continued overexpression of aromatase that leads to increased breast-tissue estrogen contributes to a number of epigenetic changes in mammary tissue such as alteration in the regulation of genes involved in apoptosis, activation of genes involved in cell cycle and cell proliferation, and activation of a number of growth factors. Our current studies show aromatase overexpression is sufficient to induce and maintain early preneoplastic and neoplastic changes in female mice without circulating ovarian estrogen. Preneoplastic and neoplastic changes induced in mammary glands as a result of aromatase overexpression can be completely abrogated with the administration of the aromatase inhibitor, letrozole. Consistent with complete reduction in hyperplasia, we have also seen downregulation of estrogen receptor and a decrease in cell proliferation markers, suggesting aromatase-induced hyperplasia can be treated with aromatase inhibitors. Our studies demonstrate that aromatase overexpression alone, without circulating estrogen, is responsible for the induction of breast hyperplasia and these changes can be abrogated using aromatase inhibitors.
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