Mifepristone induces growth arrest, caspase activation, and apoptosis of estrogen receptor-expressing, antiestrogen-resistant breast cancer cells

Virgil T. Gaddy, John T. Barrett, Jennifer N. Delk, Andre M. Kallab, Alan G. Porter, Patricia V. Schoenlein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

43 Scopus citations


Purpose: A major clinical problem in the treatment of breast cancer is the inherent and acquired resistance to antiestrogen therapy. In this study, we sought to determine whether antiprogestin treatment, used as a monotherapy or in combination with antiestrogen therapy, induced growth arrest and active cell death in antiestrogen-resistant breast cancer cells. Experimental Design: MCF-7 sublines were established from independent clonal isolations performed in the absence of drug selection and tested for their response to the antiestrogens 4-hydroxytamoxifen (4-OHT) and ICI 182,780 (fulvestrant), and the antiprogestin mifepristone (MIF). The cytostatic (growth arrest) effects of the hormones were assessed with proliferation assays, cell counting, flow cytometry, and a determination of the phosphorylation status of the retinoblastoma protein. The cytotoxic (apoptotic) effects were analyzed by assessing increases in caspase activity and cleavage of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase. Results: All of the clonally derived MCF-7 sublines expressed estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor but showed a wide range of antiestrogen sensitivity, including resistance to physiological levels of 4-OHT. Importantly, all of the clones were sensitive to the antiprogestin MIF, whether used as a monotherapy or in combination with 4-OHT. MIF induced retinoblastoma activation, G1 arrest, and apoptosis preceded by caspase activation. Conclusions: We demonstrate that: (a) estrogen receptor+progesterone receptor +, 4-OHT-resistant clonal variants can be isolated from an MCF-7 cell line in the absence of antiestrogen selection; and (b) MIF and MIF plus 4-OHT combination therapy induces growth arrest and active cell death of the antiestrogen-resistant breast cancer cells. These preclinical findings show potential for a combined hormonal regimen of an antiestrogen and an antiprogestin to combat the emergence of antiestrogen-resistant breast cancer cells and, ultimately, improve the therapeutic index of antiestrogen therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5215-5225
Number of pages11
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 1 2004


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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