The heterogenous nature of breast cancer, exemplified by a wide range of subtype classifications, has been well documented. The identification of the novel molecular apocrine breast tumours (ER-, PR-ve, HER2-ve, AR+), with a gene expression profile reflective of ER+ luminal breast cancer, has led to the proposition of an alternative role for the androgen receptor as a pseudo ER. This proposition was borne out of global expression profiling and AR recruitment of molecular apocrine cells, demonstrating that more than 50% of AR binding to the genome mirrors the pattern of ER binding suggesting that in the absence of ER, AR can mimic ER in its DNA binding capabilities.

Aromatase Inhibitor (AI) therapy is the gold standard first line therapy for postmenopausal breast cancer. AIs function by abrogating the activity of the enzyme Cyp 19 (aromatase), which is responsible for converting circulating androgens to estrogen. By preventing this conversion step, this eradicates the main steroid driving breast cancer growth and in turn results in a more androgenic environment. We hypothesise that AR may also act as a pseudo ER in our AI resistant (MCF7-letrozole resistant) cells. Preliminary data demonstrates that AR is recruited to some but not all classical ER target genes as well as some AR target genes in MCF7-LetR cells, therefore highlighting the potential of AR to act as an oncogene in this setting. Analysis of AR protein expression also demonstrates higher levels of AR in AI resistant cells versus sensitive cells. In the evaluation of the responsiveness of a range of breast cancer cell lines to the AR antagonist Bicalutamide, it was noted that our AI resistant cells demonstrated responsiveness to Bicalutamide treatment.

RNA sequencing experiments following AR knockdown in AI resistant cells also provide crucial information as to the key genes differentially regulated by AR. Given that resistance to AI therapy is an emerging clinical issue, further elucidation of the potential mechanisms of AI resistance and potential AR targets is highly warranted.

Citation Format: Leonie Young, Laura Creevey, Azlena Ali, Arnold DK Hill, Marie McIlroy. Investigation into the oncogenic potential of the androgen receptor in aromatase inhibitor resistant breast cancer [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the Thirty-Seventh Annual CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium: 2014 Dec 9-13; San Antonio, TX. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2015;75(9 Suppl):Abstract nr P3-05-21.