RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) detects estrogen receptor alpha gene (ESR1) fusion transcripts in estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer, but their role in disease pathogenesis remains unclear. We examined multiple ESR1 fusions and found that two, both identified in advanced endocrine treatment-resistant disease, encoded stable and functional fusion proteins. In both examples, ESR1-e6>YAP1 and ESR1-e6>PCDH11X, ESR1 exons 1–6 were fused in frame to C-terminal sequences from the partner gene. Functional properties include estrogen-independent growth, constitutive expression of ER target genes, and anti-estrogen resistance. Both fusions activate a metastasis-associated transcriptional program, induce cellular motility, and promote the development of lung metastasis. ESR1-e6>YAP1- and ESR1-e6>PCDH11X-induced growth remained sensitive to a CDK4/6 inhibitor, and a patient-derived xenograft (PDX) naturally expressing the ESR1-e6>YAP1 fusion was also responsive. Transcriptionally active ESR1 fusions therefore trigger both endocrine therapy resistance and metastatic progression, explaining the association with fatal disease progression, although CDK4/6 inhibitor treatment is predicted to be effective. Lei et al. show that transcriptionally active estrogen receptor gene (ESR1) fusions identified from late-stage, treatment-refractory estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer drive pan-endocrine therapy resistance and metastatic progression. Growth of breast tumors driven by ESR1 fusions at primary and metastatic sties can be suppressed with a CDK4/6 inhibitor.
- ESR1 fusions
- breast cancer
- endocrine therapy resistance
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)