Gene network signaling in hormone responsiveness modifies apoptosis and autophagy in breast cancer cells

Robert Clarke, Ayesha N. Shajahan, Rebecca B. Riggins, Younsook Cho, Anatasha Crawford, Jianhua Xuan, Yue Wang, Alan Zwart, Ruchi Nehra, Minetta C. Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Resistance to endocrine therapies, whether de novo or acquired, remains a major limitation in the ability to cure many tumors that express detectable levels of the estrogen receptor alpha protein (ER). While several resistance phenotypes have been described, endocrine unresponsiveness in the context of therapy-induced tumor growth appears to be the most prevalent. The signaling that regulates endocrine resistant phenotypes is poorly understood but it involves a complex signaling network with a topology that includes redundant and degenerative features. To be relevant to clinical outcomes, the most pertinent features of this network are those that ultimately affect the endocrine-regulated components of the cell fate and cell proliferation machineries. We show that autophagy, as supported by the endocrine regulation of monodansylcadaverine staining, increased LC3 cleavage, and reduced expression of p62/SQSTM1, plays an important role in breast cancer cells responding to endocrine therapy. We further show that the cell fate machinery includes both apoptotic and autophagic functions that are potentially regulated through integrated signaling that flows through key members of the BCL2 gene family and beclin-1 (BECN1). This signaling links cellular functions in mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum, the latter as a consequence of induction of the unfolded protein response. We have taken a seed-gene approach to begin extracting critical nodes and edges that represent central signaling events in the endocrine regulation of apoptosis and autophagy. Three seed nodes were identified from global gene or protein expression analyses and supported by subsequent functional studies that established their abilities to affect cell fate. The seed nodes of nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB), interferon regulatory factor-1 (IRF1), and X-box binding protein-1 (XBP1) are linked by directional edges that support signal flow through a preliminary network that is grown to include key regulators of their individual function: NEMO/IKKγ, nucleophosmin and ER respectively. Signaling proceeds through BCL2 gene family members and BECN1 ultimately to regulate cell fate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-20
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2009


  • Antiestrogen
  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • Breast cancer
  • Cell signaling
  • Endoplasmic reticulum
  • Estrogens
  • Gene networks
  • Unfolded protein response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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