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  • Author: Amy R Dwyer x
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Amy R Dwyer, Thu H Truong, Julie H Ostrander and Carol A Lange

Steroid hormone receptors (SRs) are classically defined as ligand-activated transcription factors that function as master regulators of gene programs important for a wide range of processes governing adult physiology, development, and cell or tissue homeostasis. A second function of SRs includes the ability to activate cytoplasmic signaling pathways. Estrogen (ER), androgen (AR), and progesterone (PR) receptors bind directly to membrane-associated signaling molecules including mitogenic protein kinases (i.e. c-Src, AKT), G-proteins, and ion channels to mediate context-dependent actions via rapid activation of downstream signaling pathways. In addition to making direct contact with diverse signaling molecules, SRs are further fully integrated with signaling pathways by virtue of their N-terminal phosphorylation sites that act as regulatory hot-spots capable of sensing the signaling milieu. In particular, ER, AR, PR, and closely related glucocorticoid receptors (GR) share the property of accepting (i.e. sensing) ligand-independent phosphorylation events by proline-directed kinases in the MAPK and CDK families. These signaling inputs act as a “second ligand” that dramatically impacts cell fate. In the face of drugs that reliably target SR ligand-binding domains to block uncontrolled cancer growth, ligand-independent post-translational modifications guide changes in cell fate that confer increased survival, EMT, migration/invasion, stemness properties, and therapy resistance of non-proliferating SR+ cancer cell subpopulations. The focus of this review is on MAPK pathways in the regulation of SR+ cancer cell fate. MAPK-dependent phosphorylation of PR (Ser294) and GR (Ser134) will primarily be discussed in light of the need to target changes in breast cancer cell fate as part of modernized combination therapies.