GPER mediates estrogen-induced signaling and proliferation in human breast epithelial cells and normal and malignant breast.
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17β-Estradiol (estrogen), through receptor binding and activation, is required for mammary gland development. Estrogen stimulates epithelial proliferation in the mammary gland, promoting ductal elongation and morphogenesis. In addition to a developmental role, estrogen promotes proliferation in tumorigenic settings, particularly breast cancer. The proliferative effects of estrogen in the normal breast and breast tumors are attributed to estrogen receptor α. Although in vitro studies have demonstrated that the G protein-coupled estrogen receptor (GPER, previously called GPR30) can modulate proliferation in breast cancer cells both positively and negatively depending on cellular context, its role in proliferation in the intact normal or malignant breast remains unclear. Estrogen-induced GPER-dependent proliferation was assessed in the immortalized nontumorigenic human breast epithelial cell line, MCF10A, and an ex vivo organ culture model employing human breast tissue from reduction mammoplasty or tumor resections. Stimulation by estrogen and the GPER-selective agonist G-1 increased the mitotic index in MCF10A cells and proportion of cells in the cell cycle in human breast and breast cancer explants, suggesting increased proliferation. Inhibition of candidate signaling pathways that may link GPER activation to proliferation revealed a dependence on Src, epidermal growth factor receptor transactivation by heparin-bound EGF and subsequent ERK phosphorylation. Proliferation was not dependent on matrix metalloproteinase cleavage of membrane-bound pro-HB-EGF. The contribution of GPER to estrogen-induced proliferation in MCF10A cells and breast tissue was confirmed by the ability of GPER-selective antagonist G36 to abrogate estrogen- and G-1-induced proliferation, and the ability of siRNA knockdown of GPER to reduce estrogen- and G-1-induced proliferation in MCF10A cells. This is the first study to demonstrate GPER-dependent proliferation in primary normal and malignant human tissue, revealing a role for GPER in estrogen-induced breast physiology and pathology.