In estrogen receptor (ER)–negative breast cancer, high tumor glucocorticoid receptor (GR) expression has been associated with a relatively poor outcome. In contrast, using a meta-analysis of several genomic datasets, here we find that tumor GR mRNA expression is associated with improved ER+ relapse-free survival (RFS; independently of progesterone receptor expression). To understand the mechanism by which GR expression is associated with a better ER+ breast cancer outcome, the global effect of GR-mediated transcriptional activation in ER+ breast cancer cells was studied. Analysis of GR chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by high-throughput sequencing in ER+/GR+ MCF-7 cells revealed that upon coactivation of GR and ER, GR chromatin association became enriched at proximal promoter regions. Furthermore, following ER activation, increased GR chromatin association was observed at ER, FOXO, and AP1 response elements. In addition, ER associated with GR response elements, suggesting that ER and GR interact in a complex. Coactivation of GR and ER resulted in increased expression (relative to ER activation alone) of transcripts that encode proteins promoting cellular differentiation (e.g., KDM4B, VDR) and inhibiting the Wnt signaling pathway (IGFBP4). Finally, expression of these individual prodifferentiation genes was associated with significantly improved RFS in ER+ breast cancer patients. Together, these data suggest that the coexpression and subsequent activity of tumor cell GR and ER contribute to the less aggressive natural history of early-stage breast cancer by coordinating the altered expression of genes favoring differentiation.
Implications: The interaction between ER and GR activity highlights the importance of context-dependent nuclear receptor function in cancer. Mol Cancer Res; 14(8); 707–19. ©2016 AACR.
This article is featured in Highlights of This Issue, p. 673
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Molecular Cancer Research Online (http://mcr.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received October 26, 2015.
- Revision received April 14, 2016.
- Accepted April 19, 2016.
- ©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.