Effects of Estrogen and Tamoxifen on the Regulation of Dihydrofolate Reductase Gene Expression in a Human Breast Cancer Cell Line

Richard M. Levine, Elizabeth Rubalcaba, Marc E. Lippman, Kenneth H. Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


We have studied the effects of estrogen and the antiestrogen tamoxifen on the regulation of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) gene expression in a methotrexate-resistant (MTXR) human breast cancer cell line MCF-7, which contains a 50-fold increase in the level of DHFR enzyme and amplified DHFR gene sequences. Despite their selection for methotrexate resistance, the MTXR cells have retained many characteristics of the parental MCF-7 cell line. Concentrations of estrogen receptors as well as their binding affinity to estradiol are identical in both cell lines. MTXR MCF-7 cells remain sensitive to estrogen and respond to estradiol with an induction of progesterone receptors, as well as increases in the rate of DNA synthesis and cell growth. Incubation of MTXR MCF-7 cells with estradiol results in an additional 1.5-to 3.0-fold increase in their already elevated level of DHFR. The hormone-induced increases in DNA synthesis and DHFR levels are similar both with respect to the time course of inductions, as well as their dose response to estradiol. However, these two estrogen-induced effects are not coupled, since the induction of DHFR occurs even in the absence of concomitant DNA synthesis. Estradiol has no effect on DHFR enzyme stability; thus, the entire effect of estrogen on DHFR levels results from the increased synthesis of this housekeeping enzyme. In contrast, treatment of MTXR MCF-7 cells with the antiestrogen tamoxifen reduces the rate of DHFR enzyme synthesis, resulting in lower cellular levels of DHFR. These MTXR MCF-7 cells represent a useful model in which to study the mechanisms involved in the modulation of DHFR gene expression by estrogen and tamoxifen. Since the level of DHFR is a critical determinant of methotrexate cytotoxicity understanding, the regulation of DHFR gene expression may have clinical implications for the use of hormonal therapy in combination with chemotherapy for the treatment of breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1644-1650
Number of pages7
JournalCancer Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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