Exposure to estrogen has long been associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. However, how estrogen signaling promotes breast carcinogenesis remains elusive. Senescence is known as an important protective response to oncogenic events. We aimed to elucidate the role of estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) on senescence in transformed human mammary epithelial cells and breast cancer cells. Our results show that ectopic expression of oncoprotein H-ras-V12 in immortalized human mammary epithelial cells (HMEC) significantly inhibited the phosphorylation of the retinoblastoma protein (Rb) and increased the activity of the senescence-associated beta-galactosidase (SA-β-Gal). These senescencelike phenotypes were reversed by ectopic expression of ERα. Similar inhibition of the H-ras-V12-induced SA-β-Gal activity by ERα was also observed in the human mammary epithelial MCF-10A cells. Co-expression of ERα and H-ras-V12 resulted in HMEC anchorage-independent growth in vitro and tumor formation in vivo. Furthermore, inhibition of ERα expression induced senescence-like phenotypes in ERα positive human breast cancer cells such as increased activity of SA-β-Gal, decreased phosphorylation of RB, and loss of mitogenic activity. Thus, the suppression of cellular senescence induced by oncogenic signals may be a major mechanism by which ERα promotes breast carcinogenesis.
- Estrogen receptor alpha
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