Constitutive activation of NF-κB during progression of breast cancer to hormone-independent growth

Harikrishna Nakshatri, Poornima Bhat-Nakshatri, Daniel A. Martin, Robert J. Goulet, George W. Sledge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

691 Scopus citations


Breast cancers often progress from a hormone-dependent, nonmetastatic, antiestrogen-sensitive phenotype to a hormone-independent, antiestrogen- and chemotherapy-resistant phenotype with highly invasive and metastatic growth properties. This progression is usually accompanied by altered function of the estrogen receptor (ER) or outgrowth of ER-negative cancer cells. To understand the molecular mechanisms responsible for metastatic growth of ER- negative breast cancers, the activities of the transcription factor NF-κB (which modulates the expression of genes involved in cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, and metastasis) were compared in ER-positive (MCF-7 and T47-D) and ER-negative (MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-435) human breast cancer cell lines. NF-κB, which is usually maintained in an inactive state by protein-protein interaction with inhibitor IκBs, was found to be constitutively active in ER-negative breast cancer cell lines. Constitutive DNA binding of NF-κB was also observed with extracts from ER-negative, poorly differentiated primary breast tumors. Progression of the rat mammary carcinoma cell line RM22-F5 from an ER-positive, nonmalignant phenotype (E phenotype) to an ER-negative, malignant phenotype (F phenotype) was also accompanied by constitutive activation of NF-κB. Analysis of individual subunits of NF-κB revealed that all ER-negative cell lines, including RM22- F5 cells of F phenotype, contain a unique 37-kDa protein which is antigenically related to the RelA subunit. Cell-type-specific differences in IκBα, -β, and -γ were also observed. In transient-transfection experiments, constitutive activity of an NF-κB-dependent promoter was observed in MDA-MB-231 and RM22-F5 cells of F phenotype, and this activity was efficiently repressed by cotransfected ER. Since ER inhibits the constitutive as well as inducible activation function of NF-κB in a dose- dependent manner, we propose that breast cancers that lack functional ER overexpress NF-κB-regulated genes. Furthermore, since recent data indicate that NF-κB protects cells from tumor necrosis factor alpha-, ionizing radiation-, and chemotherapeutic agent daunorubicin-mediated apoptosis, our results provide an explanation for chemotherapeutic resistance in ER-negative breast cancers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3629-3639
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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