Several studies have reported that a high expression ratio of HOXB13 to IL17BR predicts tumor recurrence in node-negative, estrogen receptor (ER) α-positive breast cancer patients treated with tamoxifen. The molecular mechanisms underlying this dysregulation of gene expression remain to be explored. Our epigenetic analysis has found that increased promoter methylation of one of these genes, HOXB13, correlate with the decreased expression of its transcript in breast cancer cell lines (P < 0.005). Transcriptional silencing of this gene can be reversed by a demethylation treatment. HOXB13 is suppressed by the activation of estrogen signaling in ERα-positive breast cancer cells. However, treatment with 4-hydroxytamoxifen (4-OHT), an antiestrogen, abrogates the ERα-mediated suppression in cancer cells. The notion that this transcriptional induction of HOXB13 occurs in vitro with simultaneous exposure to both estrogen and 4-OHT may provide a biological explanation for its aberrant expression in many node-negative patients undergoing tamoxifen therapy. Interestingly, promoter hypermethylation of HOXB13 is more frequently observed in ERα-positive patients with increased lymph node metastasis (P = 0.031) and large tumor sizes (>5 cm) (P = 0.008). In addition, this aberrant epigenetic event is associated with shorter disease-free survival (P = 0.029) in cancer patients. These results suggest that hypermethylation of HOXB13 is a late event of breast tumorigenesis and a poor prognostic indicator of node-positive cancer patients.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research