Signaling from estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) and its ligand estradiol (E2) is critical for growth of ≈70% of breast cancers. Therefore, several drugs that inhibit ERα functions have been in clinical use for decades and new classes of anti-estrogens are continuously being developed. Although a significant number of ERα+ breast cancers respond to anti-estrogen therapy, ≈30% of these breast cancers recur, sometimes even after 20 years of initial diagnosis. Mechanism of resistance to anti-estrogens is one of the intensely studied disciplines in breast cancer. Several mechanisms have been proposed including mutations in ESR1
, crosstalk between growth factor and ERα signaling, and interplay between cell cycle machinery and ERα signaling. ESR1
mutations as well as crosstalk with other signaling networks lead to ligand independent activation of ERα thus rendering anti-estrogens ineffective, particularly when treatment involved anti-estrogens that do not degrade ERα. As a result of these studies, several therapies that combine anti-estrogens that degrade ERα with PI3K/AKT/mTOR inhibitors targeting growth factor signaling or CDK4/6 inhibitors targeting cell cycle machinery are used clinically to treat recurrent ERα+ breast cancers. In this review, we discuss the nexus between ERα-PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathways and how understanding of this nexus has helped to develop combination therapies.
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