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Cofactor competition between the ligand-bound oestrogen receptor and an intron 1 enhancer leads to oestrogen repression of ERBB2 expression in breast cancer


Overexpression of the ERBB2 proto-oncogene in breast tumours, which occurs in 25–30% of patients, correlates with poor prognosis. In oestrogen receptor (ER) positive breast epithelial cells oestrogens reduce ERBB2 mRNA and protein levels, an effect that is reversed in the presence of anti-oestrogens such as tamoxifen and ICI 182780. Our previous studies have shown that the major effect of oestrogen on ERBB2 expression is at the level of transcription and that this is mediated through a region within the ERBB2 first intron which can act as an oestrogen-suppressible enhancer in ER positive breast cells. In vitro footprinting of the smallest DNA fragment that retained full activity revealed four transcription factor binding sites. We report here that two of these sites are recognized by AP-2 proteins and the other two are bound by a variety of bZIP factors, including CREB and ATF1, with a major complex containing ATFa/JunD. However, by using ER mutants it is clear that repression occurs essentially off the DNA. Indeed, the essential domain of the ER responsible for repression of the ERBB2 enhancer is a region termed AF2 which is required for the ligand-dependent association of non-DNA binding cofactors. We further demonstrate that one of these ER cofactors, SRC-1, can relieve oestrogen repression of the ERBB2 enhancer and conclude that these data fit with a model whereby the ER and the ERBB2 enhancer compete for this limiting, non-DNA binding cofactor. Thus, in oestrogenic conditions SRC-1 preferentially binds to the ER which effectively sequesters it thereby reducing enhancer activity, but in anti-oestrogenic media the cofactor is released from the ER and is therefore available to activate the ERBB2 enhancer.

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We would like to thank the following for the generous supply of clones, reagents and information: Alan Wakeling (ICI 182780); Bruno Chatton (ATFa antibodies and constructs); Nic Jones (ATF2 antibodies and constructs); David Gillespie (JunD constructs), Paul Meltzer (AIB1 construct) and Els Berns (data on SRC-1 levels in breast cell lines). We also acknowledge comments on the manuscript from Nick Lemoine and Jyrki Eloranta.

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Newman, S., Bates, N., Vernimmen, D. et al. Cofactor competition between the ligand-bound oestrogen receptor and an intron 1 enhancer leads to oestrogen repression of ERBB2 expression in breast cancer. Oncogene 19, 490–497 (2000).

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