ERalpha as ligand-independent activator of CDH-1 regulates determination and maintenance of epithelial morphology in breast cancer cells

Maria Dafne Cardamone, Chiara Bardella, Arantxa Gutierrez, Luciano Di Croce, Michael G Rosenfeld, Maria Flavia Di Renzo, Michele De Bortoli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Estrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) and E-cadherin are primary markers of luminal epithelial breast cancer cells with E-cadherin being a main caretaker of the epithelial phenotype. E-cadherin repression is needed for cancer cells to acquire motile and invasive properties, and it is known that in ER-positive breast cancer cells, estrogen down-regulate E-cadherin gene transcription. We report here that ERalpha is bound to the E-cadherin promoter in both the presence and the complete absence of estrogen, suggesting an unexpected role for unliganded ERalpha in E-cadherin transcription. Indeed, our data reveal that activation by unliganded ERalpha and repression by estrogen-activated ERalpha require direct binding to a half-estrogen response element within the E-cadherin promoter and exchange from associated coactivators to corepressors. Therefore, these results suggest a pivotal role for unliganded ERalpha in controlling a fundamental caretaker of the epithelial phenotype in breast cancer cells. Here, we show that ERalpha-positive breast cancer T47D cells transduced with the sfRON kinase undergo a full epithelial-mesenchymal conversion and lose E-cadherin and ERalpha expression. Our data show that, although the E-cadherin gene becomes hypermethylated and heterochromatic, kinase inhibitors can restore E-cadherin expression, together with an epithelial morphology in an ERalpha-dependent fashion. Similarly, transfection of ERalpha, in the absence of ligands, was sufficient to restore E-cadherin transcription in both sfRON-T47D and other ERalpha-, E-cadherin-negative cells. Therefore, our results suggest a novel role for the ERalpha that plays the dual role of ligand-independent activator and ligand-dependent repressor of E-cadherin in breast cancer cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7420-5
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2009


  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Breast Neoplasms/genetics
  • Cadherins/genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Epithelial Cells/metabolism
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha/metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Transcription, Genetic


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