Breast cancers often exhibit elevated expression of tyrosine kinase growth factor receptors; these pathways influence breast cancer cell growth in part by targeting steroid hormone receptors, including progesterone receptors (PR). To mimic activation of molecules downstream of growth factor-initiated signaling pathways, we overexpressed mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK; also known as extracellular signal-regulated kinase) kinase kinase 1 (MEKK1) in T47D human breast cancer cells expressing the B isoform of PR. MEKK1 is a strong activator of p42 and p44 MAPKs. MEKK1 expression increased progestin-mediated transcription 8- to 10-fold above normal PR-driven transcription levels. This was dependent on the presence of a progesterone response element and functional PR. PR protein levels were unchanged by MEKK1 alone but were extensively down-regulated by MEKK1 plus the progestin R5020. MEKK1 expression resulted in phosphorylation of PR on Ser294, a MAPK consensus site known to mediate ligand-dependent PR degradation. MEK inhibitors blocked phosphorylation of Ser294 and attenuated PR transcriptional hyperactivity in response to MEKK1 plus R5020; stabilization of PR by inhibition of the 26S proteasome produced similar results. T47D cells stably expressing mutant S294A PR, in which serine 294 is replaced by alanine, fail to undergo ligand-dependent down-regulation and are resistant to MEKK1-plus-R5020-induced transcriptional synergy but respond to progestins alone. Similarly, c-myc protein levels are synergistically increased by epidermal growth factor and R5020 in cells expressing wild-type PR, but not S294A PR. Thus, highly stable mutant PR are functional in response to progestins but are incapable of cross talk with MAPK-driven pathways. These studies demonstrate a paradoxical coupling between steroid receptor down-regulation and transcriptional hyperactivity. They also suggest a link between phosphorylation of PR by MAPKs in response to peptide growth factor signaling and steroid hormone control of breast cancer cell growth.
Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.