R Hrstka, R Nenutil, A Fourtouna, MM Maslon, C Naughton, S Langdon, E Murray, A Larionov, K Petrakova, P Muller, MJ Dixon, TR Hupp, B Vojtesek
Transcriptomic screens in breast cancer cell lines have identified a protein named anterior gradient-2 (AGR2) as a potentially novel oncogene overexpressed in estrogen receptor (ER) positive tumours. As targeting the ER is responsible for major improvements in cure rates and prevention of breast cancers, we have evaluated the pro-oncogenic function of AGR2 in anti-hormone therapeutic responses. We show that AGR2 expression promotes cancer cell survival in clonogenic assays and increases cell proliferation and viability in a range of cancer cell lines. Chromatin immunoprecipitation and reporter assays indicate that AGR2 is transcriptionally activated by estrogen through ERalpha. However, we also found that AGR2 expression is elevated rather than inhibited in response to tamoxifen, thus identifying a novel mechanism to account for an agonistic effect of the drug on a specific pro-oncogenic pathway. Consistent with these data, clinical analysis indicates that AGR2 expression is related to treatment failure in ERalpha-positive breast cancers treated with tamoxifen. In contrast, AGR2 is one of the most highly suppressed genes in cancers of responding patients treated with the anti-hormonal drug letrozole. These data indicate that the AGR2 pathway represents a novel pro-oncogenic pathway for evaluation as anti-cancer drug developments, especially therapies that by-pass the agonist effects of tamoxifen.