Endometrial Cancer-Associated FGF18 Expression Is Reduced by Bazedoxifene in Human Endometrial Stromal Cells In Vitro and in Murine Endometrium

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Endometrial cancer develops during exposure to estrogen unopposed by progesterone. Traditional formulations for menopausal hormone therapy include a progestin in women with a uterus. However, progestin exposure increases breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Alternatives to progestin include bazedoxifene (BZA), a selective estrogen receptor modulator, which prevents estrogen induced endometrial hyperplasia in clinical trials. Molecular mechanisms responsible for BZA's antiproliferative effect are not fully elucidated. We profiled endometrial adenocarcinoma, hyperplasia, and normal proliferative endometrium for differential expression in genes known to be regulated by estrogens or progesterone. Fibroblast growth factor (FGF)18, a paracrine growth factor promoting epithelial proliferation, was significantly increased in adenocarcinoma. Progesterone represses FGF18 by inducing heart and neural crest derivatives expressed transcript 2 (HAND2) in stromal cells. Notably, we confirmed lower HAND2 mRNA in adenocarcinoma, along with higher FGF tyrosine kinase receptor 2 and E74-like factor 5, collectively promoting FGF18 activity. We hypothesized BZA reduces epithelial proliferation by inhibiting FGF18 synthesis in stromal cells. To determine whether BZA regulates FGF18, we treated primary stromal cells with BZA or vehicle. In vitro, BZA reduced FGF18, but did not affect, HAND2. CD1 female mice received either BZA, conjugated estrogen (CE), or combined BZA/CE for 8 weeks. CE-treated mice had nearly 3-fold higher FGF18 expression. In contrast, BZA-treated mice, alone or with CE, had similar FGF18 as controls. Unexpectedly, BZA, alone or with CE, reduced HAND2 more than 80%, differing from progesterone regulation. Reduction of FGF18 is a potential mechanism by which BZA reduces endometrial proliferation and hyperplasia induced by estrogens. However, BZA works independently of HAND2, revealing a novel mechanism for progestin-free hormone therapy in postmenopausal women.

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