Tamoxifen-induced Rapid Death of MCF-7 Breast Cancer Cells is mediated via ERK Signaling and can be abrogated by Estrogen.

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Tamoxifen (Tam) is widely used in chemotherapy of breast cancer. It inhibits proliferation and induces apoptosis of breast cancer cells by estrogen receptor (ER)-dependent modulation of gene expression. In addition, recent reports have shown that Tam also has nongenomic effects. We previously reported induction of a rapid mitochondrial death program in breast cancer cells at pharmacological concentrations of Tam. Here we studied the upstream signaling events leading to mitochondrial disruption by Tam. We observed that 5 mu M Tam rapidly induced sustained activation of ERK1/2 in ER-positive breast cancer cell lines (MCF-7 and T47D) and that PD98059 (inhibitor of ERK activation) was able to protect MCF-7 cells against Tam-induced death. These data suggest that activation of ERK has a primary role in the acute death response of the cells. In addition, inhibition of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) opposed both Tam-induced ERK1/2 phosphorylation and cell death, which suggests that EGFR-associated mechanisms are involved in Tam-induced death. ERK1/2 phosphorylation was associated with a prolonged nuclear localization of ERK1/2 as determined by fluorescence microscopy with ERK2-green fluorescent protein construct. 17 beta-Estradiol was shown to exert a different kind of temporal pattern of ERK nuclear localization in comparison with Tam. Moreover, 17 beta-estradiol was found to oppose the rapid effects of Tam in MCF-7 and T47D cells but not in MDA-MB-231 cells, which implies a role for estrogen receptors in the protective effect of estrogen. The pure antiestrogen ICI182780 could not, however, prevent Tam-induced ERK1/2 phosphorylation, suggesting that the Tam-induced rapid cell death is primarily ER-independent or mediated by ICI182780 insensitive nongenomic mechanisms.


  • Aiping Zheng
  • Anu Kallio
  • Pirkko Härkönen
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Endocrinology and Diabetes
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2764-2777
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch