Antiestrogenic adjuvant treatments are first-line therapies in patients with breast cancer positive for estrogen receptor (ER+). Improvement of their treatment strategies is needed because most patients eventually acquire endocrine resistance and many others are initially refractory to anti-estrogen treatments. The tumor microenvironment plays essential roles in cancer development and progress; however, the molecular mechanisms underlying such effects remain poorly understood. Breast cancer cell lines co-cultured with TNF-α-conditioned macrophages were used as pro-inflammatory tumor microenvironment models. Proliferation, migration, and colony formation assays were performed to evaluate tamoxifen and ICI 182,780 resistance and confirmed in a mouse-xenograft model. Molecular mechanisms were investigated using cytokine antibody arrays, WB, ELISA, ChIP, siRNA, and qPCR-assays. In our simulated pro-inflammatory tumor microenvironment, tumor-associated macrophages promoted proliferation, migration, invasiveness, and breast tumor growth of ER+ cells, rendering these estrogen-dependent breast cancer cells resistant to estrogen withdrawal and tamoxifen or ICI 182,780 treatment. Crosstalk between breast cancer cells and conditioned macrophages induced sustained release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from both cell types, activation of NF-κB/STAT3/ERK in the cancer cells and hyperphosphorylation of ERα, which resulted constitutively active. Our simulated tumor microenvironment strongly altered endocrine and inflammatory signaling pathways in breast cancer cells, leading to endocrine resistance in these cells.
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