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Induction of apoptosis in hormone refractory breast cancer: horizontal modulation is superior to vertical
Wei Yue, Ji-Ping Wang, Ling Zhang, Weitao Wang, Richard J. Santen and Sarah E. Aiyar

Women with estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer receive treatment with tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors as adjuvant hormone therapy, but their tumors frequently exhibit de novo or acquired resistance. Current strategies being developed to overcome resistance involve a combination of growth factor pathway inhibitors in addition to hormone therapy. Unfortunately, prolongation of responses with these new approaches is measured only in months. We reasoned that a pro-apoptotic strategy would be preferable since cell death would abrogate the process of adaptive reprogramming and eliminate the resistant cells rather than inhibiting their growth. Our hypothesis was that combinations of pro-apoptotic agents could be designed that would act synergistically as opposed to a merely additively. We examined two model strategies to determine which would result in the greatest synergy: a vertical approach that involved the targeting of two or more steps in a single pathway and a horizontal one, targeting steps in more than one parallel pathway.

We found that combinations involving horizontal activation resulted in greater synergy than vertical. Combination index and isobologram analyses revealed that the horizontal combination of the small molecule 4-(4-chloro-2-methylphenoxy)-N-hydroxybutanamide (CMH) along with T-DM1 displayed the strongest synergy for inducing apoptosis in hormone refractory breast cancer cells. Both the reprogrammed, hormone resistant cells and the wild type responded to certain combinations with synergistic enhancement of apoptosis. These data suggest that combinations using T-DM1 are promising for further in vivo studies both in xenografts and in patients.

Keywords: FTS, TMS, E2, MCF-7, T47D, LTED, Horizontal modulation, Vertical modulation, apoptosis, combination index, isobologram analysis

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