Abiraterone switches castration‐resistant prostate cancer dependency from adrenal androgens towards androgen receptor variants and glucocorticoid receptor signalling

J. Matthijs Moll, Johannes Hofland, Wilma Teubel, Corina M.A. De Ridder, Angela Taylor, Ralph Graeser, Wiebke Arlt, Guido Jenster, Wytske Van Weerden

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Introduction: Castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) remains dependent on androgen receptor (AR) signalling, which is largely driven by conversion of adrenal androgen precursors lasting after castration. Abiraterone, an inhibitor of the steroidogenic enzyme CYP17A1, has been demonstrated to reduce adrenal androgen synthesis and prolong CRPC patient survival. To study mechanisms of resistance to castration and abiraterone, we created coculture models using human prostate and adrenal tumours. 

Materials and Methods: Castration-naïve and CRPC clones of VCaP were incubated with steroid substrates or cocultured with human adrenal cells (H295R) and treated with abiraterone or the antiandrogen enzalutamide. Male mice bearing VCaP xenografts with and without concurrent H295R xenografts were castrated and treated with placebo or abiraterone. Response was assessed by tumour growth and PSA release. Plasma and tumour steroid levels were assessed by LC/MS-MS. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction determined steroidogenic enzyme, nuclear receptor and AR target gene expression. 

Results: In vitro, adrenal androgens induced castration-naïve and CRPC cell growth, while precursors steroids for de novo synthesis did not. In a coculture system, abiraterone blocked H295R-induced growth of VCaP cells. In vivo, H295R promoted castration-resistant VCaP growth. Abiraterone only inhibited VCaP growth or PSA production in the presence of H295R. Plasma steroid levels demonstrated CYP17A1 inhibition by abiraterone, whilst CRPC tumour tissue steroid levels showed no evidence of de novo intratumoural androgen production. Castration-resistant and abiraterone-resistant VCaP tumours had increased levels of AR, AR variants and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) resulting in equal AR target gene expression levels compared to noncastrate tumours.

Conclusions: In our model, ligand-dependent AR-regulated regrowth of CRPC was predominantly supported via adrenal androgen precursor production while there was no evidence for intratumoural androgen synthesis. Abiraterone-resistant tumours relied on AR overexpression, expression of ligand-independent AR variants and GR signalling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-516
JournalThe Prostate
Issue number5
Early online date17 Jan 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank A.H. Boer, D.C. Stuurman and S.A.H. Hoeben (Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands) for their assistance with the animal experiments. We would like to thank S. Blom and K. Valimaki (FIMM, Helsinki, Finland) for their technical support in constructing the tissue micro‐array. The research leading to these results has received support from the Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking under grant agreement No. 115188, resources of which are composed of financial contribution from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007‐2013) and EFPIA companies in kind contribution.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. The Prostate published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • Oncology
  • Urology


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