Acquired resistance to the estrogen receptor (ER) antagonist tamoxifen, is a major obstacle in treatment of breast cancer. Changes in Zn2+ accumulation and distribution are associated with tamoxifen-resistance and breast cancer progression. The Zn2+-sensing G-protein coupled receptor, ZnR/GPR39, triggers signaling leading to cell growth, but a role for this receptor in breast cancer in unknown. Using fluorescence imaging, we found Zn2+-dependent Ca2+ release, mediated by ZnR/GPR39 activity, in TAMR tamoxifen-resistant cells derived from MCF-7 cells, but not in ER-expressing MCF-7 or T47D cells. Furthermore, ZnR/GPR39 signaling was monitored in ER negative BT20, MDA-MB-453 and JIMT-1 cells. Expression of ZnR/GPR39 was increased in grade 3 human breast cancer biopsies compared to grade 2. Consistently, analysis of two breast cancer patient cohorts, GDS4057 and TCGA, indicated that in ER-negative tumors higher ZnR/GPR39 mRNA levels are associated with more aggressive tumors. Activation of ZnR/GPR39 in TAMR cells triggered MAPK, mTOR and PI3K signaling. Importantly, enhanced cell growth and invasiveness was observed in the ER negative breast cancer cells, TAMR, MDA-MB-453 and BT20 cells but not in the ER expressing MCF-7 cells. Thus, we suggest ZnR/GPR39 as a potential therapeutic target for combination treatment in breast cancer, particularly relevant in ER negative tumors.
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