Original Paper

Oncogene (2003) 22, 7998–8011. doi:10.1038/sj.onc.1206769

Effect of estradiol on estrogen receptor-alpha gene expression and activity can be modulated by the ErbB2/PI 3-K/Akt pathway

Gerald E Stoica1, Thomas F Franke2, Maria Moroni1, Susette Mueller1, Elisha Morgan3, Mary C Iann3, Abigail D Winder3, Ronald Reiter1, Anton Wellstein1, Mary Beth Martin1 and Adriana Stoica1,3

  1. 1Department of Oncology, Lombardi Cancer Center, Georgetown University, Washington DC 20057, USA
  2. 2Department of Pharmacology, Columbia University, New York 10032, USA
  3. 3School of Nursing and Health Studies, Georgetown University, Washington DC 20057, USA

Correspondence: A Stoica, E411 Research Building, 3970 Reservoir Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20057, USA. E-mail: stoicaa@georgetown.edu

Received 16 December 2002; Accepted 6 May 2003.



Epidermal growth factor (EGF), insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), and heregulin-beta1 (HRG-beta1), can modulate the expression and activity of the estrogen receptor-alpha (ER-alpha) via the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI 3-K)/Akt pathway in the ER-alpha-positive breast cancer cell line, MCF-7. Estradiol can also rapidly activate PI 3-K/Akt in these cells (nongenomic effect). The recent study examines whether Akt is involved in the ER-alpha regulation by estradiol (genomic effect). Stable transfection of parental MCF-7 cells with a dominant-negative Akt mutant, as well as the PI 3-K inhibitors wortmannin and LY 294,002, blocked the effect of estradiol on ER-alpha expression and activity by 70–80 and 55–63%, respectively. Stable transfection of MCF-7 cells with a constitutively active Akt mimicked the effect of estradiol. The changes in ER-alpha expression and activity were abrogated in response to estradiol by an arginine to cysteine mutation in the pleckstrin homology (PH) domain of Akt (R25C), suggesting the involvement of this amino acid in the interaction between Akt and ER-alpha. Experiments employing selective ErbB inhibitors demonstrate that the effect of estradiol on ER-alpha expression and activity is mediated by ErbB2 and not by EGFR. Moreover, anchorage-dependent and -independent growth assays, cell cycle and membrane ruffling analyses showed that Akt exerts estrogen-like activity on cell growth and membrane ruffling and that a selective ErbB2 inhibitor, but not anti-ErbB2 antibodies directed to the extracellular domain, can block these effects. In the presence of constitutively active Akt, tamoxifen only partially inhibits cell growth. In contrast, in cells stably transfected with either a dominant-negative Akt or with R25C-Akt, as well as in parental cells in the presence of a selective ErbB2 inhibitor, the effect of estradiol on anchorage-dependent and -independent cell growth was inhibited by 50–75 and 100%, respectively. Dominant-negative Akt inhibited membrane ruffling by 54%; however, R25C-Akt did not have any effect, suggesting that kinase activity plays an important role in this process. Scatchard analysis demonstrated a 67% reduction in estrogen-binding capacity in cells transfected with constitutively active Akt. No change in binding affinity of estradiol to the receptor was observed upon transfection with either Akt mutant. Taken together, our results suggest that estradiol treatment results in binding to membrane ER-alpha and interaction with a heterodimer containing ErbB2, leading to tyrosine phosphorylation. This results in the activation of PI 3-K and Akt. Akt, in turn, may interact with nuclear ER-alpha, altering its expression and activity.


estradiol, estrogen receptor-alpha, ErbB2, Akt