Molybdate-stabilized androgen receptors have been quantitated in cytosols derived from 1026 malignant breast tumors including all new cases of primary breast cancer reported in the western region of Norway during the 3-year period 1985–1987. A simple single point saturation assay using the synthetic labeled ligand methyltrienolone was evaluated for this purpose. This approach also allowed the simultaneous determination of estrogen and progesterone receptor from the same cytosol preparation. The cytosol content of albumin was also recorded in order to control for dilution by extracellular proteins.

Androgen receptor was the sex hormone receptor most frequently found both in primary and secondary breast cancer. In primary tumors 84.9% (723 of 852) showed a cytosol concentration higher than 10 fmol/mg protein compared to 71.2 and 67.1% for estrogen and progesterone receptors, respectively. This incidence is about 2 times higher than previously reported for androgen receptors in the literature and may be due to the stabilizing effects of molybdate and a serine protease inhibitor on the recovery of active binding sites in cytosol.

Cytosol concentration of androgen receptor is generally lower than that of the other sex hormone receptors; the average level was 65.5 fmol/mg cytosol protein compared to 86.8 and 84.7 for estrogen and progesterone receptors, respectively.

Both incidence and cytosol concentrations were lower for all sex hormone receptors in soft tissue metastasis than in the primary tumor. This decrease is not likely to be due to differences in tumor cellularity since metastatic tumors appear to be more cellular as judged from a lower cytosol content of extracellular proteins (albumin). No significant differences were observed in any parameter investigated between different metastatic sites (skin, lymph nodes). Androgen receptor levels were strongly correlated to estrogen and progesterone receptor concentration in both primary and secondary cancers.

Cytosol androgen receptor concentration increases with age. This increase is more significant in metastatic than in primary tumors. Evidently, tumor cellularity is a confounding factor in primary tumors since tumor cytosols from younger patients showed a higher content of extracellular proteins. Receptor levels in lymph node metastasis did not exhibit age dependence. This may suggest that locally produced factors rather than circulating levels of sex steroids modulate tumor receptor expression.

In metastatic tissues androgen receptors are present with twice the frequency of progesterone receptors and one in four of these tumors express androgen receptor as their sole sex hormone receptor. This supports the view that some of the beneficial effects of high dose progestin treatment of advanced breast cancer are mediated through the androgen receptor. Knowledge of the tumor androgen receptor status should thus aid in the selection of optimal endocrine therapies in recurrent disease.

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This work was supported by the Norwegian Cancer Society (Norsk Forening til Kreftens Bekjempelse).

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