Disruption of insulin receptor function inhibits proliferation in endocrine-resistant breast cancer cells

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The insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system is a well-studied growth regulatory pathway implicated in breast cancer biology. Clinical trials testing monoclonal antibodies directed against the type I IGF receptor (IGF1R) in combination with estrogen receptor-α (ER) targeting have been completed, but failed to show benefits in patients with endocrine-resistant tumors compared to ER targeting alone. We have previously shown that the closely related insulin receptor (InsR) is expressed in tamoxifen-resistant (TamR) breast cancer cells. Here we examined if inhibition of InsR affected TamR breast cancer cells. InsR function was inhibited by three different mechanisms: InsR short hairpin RNA, a small InsR-blocking peptide, S961 and an InsR monoclonal antibody (mAb). Suppression of InsR function by these methods in TamR cells successfully blocked insulin-mediated signaling, monolayer proliferation, cell cycle progression and anchorage-independent growth. This strategy was not effective in parental cells likely because of the presence of IGFR /InsR hybrid receptors. Downregulation of IGF1R in conjunction with InsR inhibition was more effective in blocking IGF- and insulin-mediated signaling and growth in parental cells compared with single-receptor targeting alone. Our findings show TamR cells were stimulated by InsR and were not sensitive to IGF1R inhibition, whereas in tamoxifen-sensitive parental cancer cells, the presence of both receptors, especially hybrid receptors, allowed cross-reactivity of ligand-mediated activation and growth. To suppress the IGF system, targeting of both IGF1R and InsR is optimal in endocrine-sensitive and -resistant breast cancer.

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