Alternative splicing of the estrogen receptor primary transcript normally occurs in estrogen receptor positive tissues and cell lines

Ulrich Pfeffer, Emanuela Fecarotta, Giuseppe Arena, Alessandra Forlani, Giorgio Vidali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Several laboratories have described estrogen receptor mRNA variants created by skipping internal exons. Some of the putative proteins encoded for by these variants have been functionally characterized by transfection analyses. The variant lacking exon 5 would lead, if translated, to a truncated receptor which shows dominant positive transactivation activity in the absence of hormone. It has been postulated that the variant could account for anti-estrogen resistant tumor growth and for expression of the progesterone receptor in estrogen receptor negative tumors. In order to understand the possible role this and other variants may have in the tumorigenesis of mammary tissue we have carried out a thorough analysis of variants expressed in a tumor cell line (MCF-7), in a tumor sample and in a sample of normal breast tissue derived from mammary reduction surgery. We performed rt-PCR analyses followed by hybridization with exon specific oligonucleotide probes. By these means we have detected nine different variants co-expressed in MCF-7 cells and at least the major variants were equally expressed in normal and neoplastic breast tissue. The same is true for the variant lacking exon 5 which, however, resulted to be a variant of low expression in the three samples analyzed. Variant formation appeared to be restricted to the estrogen receptor messenger since several other members of the superfamily of nuclear receptors did not show variant formation. We also have analyzed the effect of the most abundantly expressed variant, the exon 4 lacking variant, on normal estrogen receptor function, on the growth and on the response to estradiol and to tamoxifen of MCF-7 cells. Although over-expressed at high levels this variant has, if any, only marginal effects on the expression of endogenous estrogen regulated genes and on growth and response to the hormone and its antagonist. Although the lack of function of this variant cannot be extrapolated to other variants, their involvement in tumor formation appears rather unlikely since they are also expressed in normal tissue and the single variant is expressed in addition to many others, some of which might have opposing effects. Variant formation is, however, specific for the estrogen receptor and apparently regulated with tissue specificity as our expression analysis in normal mouse tissues shows. Therefore the variants probably have a physiological significance yet to be discovered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-105
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number1-6
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology


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