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ERβ1 represses basal-like breast cancer epithelial to mesenchymal transition by destabilizing EGFR

Christoforos Thomas1*, Gayani Rajapaksa1, Fotis Nikolos1, Ruixin Hao1, Anne Katchy1, Catherine W McCollum1, Maria Bondesson1, Phil Quinlan2, Alastair Thompson2, Savitri Krishnamurthy3, Francisco J Esteva4 and Jan-Åke Gustafsson1

  • * Corresponding author: Christoforos Thomas

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology and Biochemistry, Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling, University of Houston, 3605 Cullen Blvd., Houston, TX 77204, USA

2 Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, University of Dundee, DD1 9SY Dundee, UK

3 Department of Pathology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030, USA

4 Department of Breast Medical Oncology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030, USA

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Breast Cancer Research 2012, 14:R148  doi:10.1186/bcr3358

Published: 16 November 2012



Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is associated with the basal-like breast cancer phenotypes. Sixty percent of basal-like cancers have been shown to express wild-type estrogen receptor beta (ERβ1). However, it is still unclear whether the ERβ expression is related to EMT, invasion and metastasis in breast cancer. In the present study, we examined whether ERβ1 through regulating EMT can influence invasion and metastasis in basal-like cancers.


Basal-like breast cancer cells (MDA-MB-231 and Hs578T), in which ERβ1 was either overexpressed or down-regulated were analyzed for their ability to migrate and invade (wound-healing assay, matrigel-coated Transwell assay) as well as for the expression of EMT markers and components of the EGFR pathway (immunoblotting, RT-PCR). Co-immunoprecipitation and ubiquitylation assays were employed to examine whether ERβ1 alters epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) protein degradation and the interaction between EGFR and the ubiquitin ligase c-Cbl. The metastatic potential of the ERβ1-expressing MDA-MB-231 cells was evaluated in vivo in a zebrafish xenotransplantation model and the correlation between ERβ1 and E-cadherin expression was examined in 208 clinical breast cancer specimens by immunohistochemistry.


Here we show that ERβ1 inhibits EMT and invasion in basal-like breast cancer cells when they grow either in vitro or in vivo in zebrafish. The inhibition of EMT correlates with an ERβ1-mediated up-regulation of miR-200a/b/429 and the subsequent repression of ZEB1 and SIP1, which results in increased expression of E-cadherin. The positive correlation of ERβ1 and E-cadherin expression was additionally observed in breast tumor samples. Down-regulation of the basal marker EGFR through stabilization of the ubiquitin ligase c-Cbl complexes and subsequent ubiquitylation and degradation of the activated receptor is involved in the ERβ1-mediated repression of EMT and induction of EGFR signaling abolished the ability of ERβ1 to sustain the epithelial phenotype.


Taken together, the results of our study strengthen the association of ERβ1 with the regulation of EMT and propose the receptor as a potential crucial marker in predicting metastasis in breast cancer.