Activation of the Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor by TCDD Inhibits Mammary Tumor Metastasis in a Syngeneic Mouse Model of Breast Cancer

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Treatment with aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) agonists can slow or reverse the growth of primary mammary tumors in rodents, which has fostered interest in developing selective AhR modulators for treatment of breast cancer. However, the major goal of breast cancer therapy is to inhibit metastasis, the primary cause of mortality in women with this disease. Studies conducted using breast cancer cell lines have demonstrated that AhR agonists suppress proliferation, invasiveness, and colony formation in vitro; however, further exploration using in vivo models of metastasis is warranted. To test the effect of AhR activation on metastasis, 4T1.2 mammary tumor cells were injected into the mammary gland fat pad of syngeneic Balb/c mice treated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). Primary tumor growth was monitored for 4 weeks, at which time metastasis was determined. TCDD treatment suppressed metastasis by approximately 50%, as measured both in the lung and in mammary glands at sites distant from the primary tumor. Primary tumor growth was not suppressed by TCDD exposure nor was proliferation of 4T1.2 cells affected by TCDD treatment in vitro. Taken together, these results suggest that the protective effect of AhR activation was selective for the metastatic process and not simply the result of a direct decrease in tumor cell proliferation or survival at the primary site. These observations in immunologically intact animals warrant further investigation into the mechanism of the protective effects of AhR activation and support the promise for use of AhR modulators to treat breast cancer.

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