The estrogenic activity of synthetic progestins used in oral contraceptives enhances fatty acid synthase-dependent breast cancer cell proliferation and survival.

Javier A. Menendez, Bharvi P. Oza, Ramon Colomer, Ruth Lupu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Overexpression of the lipogenic enzyme fatty acid synthase (FAS) is a common molecular feature in subsets of sex-steroid-related tumors including breast carcinomas that is associated with poor prognosis. In this study, we explored whether breast-cancer associated FAS (oncogenic antigen-519) is regulated by the progestin component in oral contraceptives. In addition, we examined the role of FAS hyperactivity on progestin-regulated breast cancer cell proliferation, survival and metastatic properties. We found that in estrogen receptor (ER)- and progesterone receptor (PR)-positive MCF-7 human breast cancer cells, synthetic progestins used in oral contraceptives including norethynodrel (NOR) and norethindrone, induced a dose-dependent increase of FAS enzymatic activity, with a maximum response (> or = 4-fold) occurring at a concentration of 10(-8) M. FAS activity was only slightly stimulated after exposure to two other progestins, medroxy-progesterone acetate (MPA) and megestrol acetate (MGA), which are used in postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy and high-dose progestin treatment therapy. Western blot analyses showed that NOR-induced stimulation of FAS activity correlated closely with NOR-induced up-regulation of FAS protein expression. To determine the role of FAS accumulation following NOR exposure, we pharmacologically examined the requirement for FAS activity in NOR-stimulated breast cancer cell proliferation and survival. The novel small compound C75 (a slow-binding FAS inhibitor) blocked NOR-induced breast cancer cell proliferation in anchorage-dependent assays. More importantly, pharmacological inhibition of FAS activity completely abolished NOR-stimulated soft-agar colony formation of MCF-7 cells. To evaluate the involvement of PR and ER signalings in NOR-induced up-regulation of FAS expression and activity, NOR was used in combination with either the anti-progestin RU486 (mifepristone) or the pure antiestrogen ICI 182,780 (Faslodex). RU486 and ICI 182,780 similarly abolished NOR-induced FAS activation, supporting the notion that PR- and ER-mediated FAS up-regulation might play different roles in NOR-stimulated breast cancer cells. Interestingly, when we evaluated the involvement of PR and ER signalings on NOR-induced breast cancer cell proliferation, the anti-estrogen ICI 182,780, but not the anti-progestin RU486, was found to inhibit NOR-stimulated proliferation and survival of MCF-7 cells in anchorage-dependent and -independent assays. To further determine whether NOR produced their effects via the ER, we evaluated its effects on endogenous ER transcriptional activity by using transient transfection assays with an estrogen-response element reporter construct (ERE-Luciferase). In the absence of E2 stimulation, treatment with NOR dramatically increased the levels of ERE-dependent transcriptional activity. This estrogenic like-effect of NOR was blocked by the addition of ICI 182,780, whereas RU486 failed to inhibit NOR-induced ERE activity. In summary, this study provides direct evidence that: a) a number of synthetic progestins used in oral contraceptives significantly activates breast cancer-associated FAS (OA-519) activity and expression in hormone-dependent breast cancer cells; b) FAS activity is necessary for progestin-induced anchorage-independent growth and survival of human breast cancer cells, and c) activation of ER, but not PR signaling, is the stimulatory mechanism through which synthetic progestins enhance a FAS-dependent proliferative and pro-survival signaling. These findings should be helpful to explain the conflicting evidence linking oral contraceptives and breast cancer risk through the estrogenic activation of tumor-associated FAS (OA-519), a molecular marker associated with poor clinical outcome of breast cancer disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1507-1515
Number of pages9
JournalInternational journal of oncology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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