Activation of caspase-3 and c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase-1 signaling pathways in tamoxifen-induced apoptosis of human breast cancer cells

Sandhya Mandlekar, Rong Yu, Tse Hua Tan, Ah Ng Tony Kong

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171 Scopus citations


Tamoxifen (TAM) is widely used in the treatment of breast cancer. The cytostatic effects of TAM have been attributed to the antagonism of estrogen receptor (ER) and inhibition of estrogen-dependent proliferative events. However, the mechanism by which TAM is also effective against certain ER-negative breast tumors remains to be elucidated. Here we report that TAM induced the activity of caspase-3-like proteases in ER-negative breast cancer cell lines MDA-MB-231 and BT-20, as evidenced by the cleavage of fluorogenic tetrapeptide substrate and of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase. The activation of caspase-3-like proteases preceded TAM-induced chromatin condensation and nuclear fragmentation, the typical apoptotic morphologies. Pretreatment of cells with a specific inhibitor of caspase-3, acetyl-Asp-Glu-Val-Asp-aldehyde, or with a general inhibitor of caspases, benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp-fluoromethyl ketone, prevented TAM-induced apoptosis. TAM also stimulated c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK) 1 activity, and interfering with the JNK pathway by overexpressing a DN JNK1 mutant attenuated TAM-induced apoptosis. In addition, treatment of cells with a lipid-soluble antioxidant vitamin E blocked TAM-induced caspase-3 and JNK1 activation as well as apoptosis, whereas water-soluble antioxidants N-acetyl L-cysteine and glutathione had little effect. Thus, this study demonstrates that TAM induces apoptosis in ER-negative breast cancer cells through caspase-3 and JNK1 pathways, which are probably initiated at the cell membrane by an oxidative mechanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5995-6000
Number of pages6
JournalCancer Research
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2000
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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