Estrogen receptor–positive (ER+) metastatic tumors contribute to nearly 70% of breast cancer–related deaths. Most patients with ER+ metastatic breast cancer (MBC) undergo treatment with the estrogen receptor antagonist fulvestrant as standard of care. Yet, among such patients, metastasis in liver is associated with reduced overall survival compared with other metastasis sites. The factors underlying the reduced responsiveness of liver metastases to ER-targeting agents remain unknown, impeding the development of more effective treatment approaches to improve outcomes for patients with ER+ liver metastases. We therefore evaluated site-specific changes in MBC cells and determined the mechanisms through which the liver metastatic niche specifically influences ER+ tumor metabolism and drug resistance. We characterized ER activity of MBC cells both in vitro, using a novel system of tissue-specific extracellular matrix hydrogels representing the stroma of ER+ tumor metastatic sites (liver, lung, and bone), and in vivo, in liver and lung metastasis mouse models. ER+ metastatic liver tumors and MBC cells grown in liver hydrogels displayed upregulated expression of glucose metabolism enzymes in response to fulvestrant. Furthermore, differential ERα activity, but not expression, was detected in liver hydrogels. In vivo, increased glucose metabolism led to increased glycogen deposition in liver metastatic tumors, while a fasting-mimicking diet increased efficacy of fulvestrant treatment to reduce the metastatic burden. Our findings identify a novel mechanism of endocrine resistance driven by the liver tumor microenvironment.
These results may guide the development of dietary strategies to circumvent drug resistance in liver metastasis, with potential applicability in other metastatic diseases.