It is a challenge to develop a universal single drug that can treat breast cancer at single- or multiple-stage complications, yet remains nontoxic to normal cells. The challenge is even greater when breast cancer-specific, estrogen-based drugs are being developed that cannot act against multistaged breast cancer complications owing to the cells differential estrogen receptor (ER) expression status and their possession of drug-resistant and metastatic phenotypes. We report here the development of a first cationic lipid-conjugated estrogenic derivative (ESC8) that kills breast cancer cells independent of their ER expression status. This ESC8 molecule apparently is nontoxic to normal breast epithelial cells, as well as to other noncancer cells. ESC8 induces apoptosis through an intrinsic pathway in ER-negative MDA-MB-231 cells. In addition, ESC8 treatment induces autophagy in these cells by interfering with the mTOR activity. This is the first example of an estrogen structure-based molecule that coinduces apoptosis and autophagy in breast cancer cells. Further in vivo study confirms the role of this molecule in tumor regression. Together, our results open new perspective of breast cancer chemotherapy through a single agent, which could provide the therapeutic benefit across all stages of breast cancer.
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