Estrogens play an important role in the pathobiology of breast cancer. In postmenopausal women, peripheral synthesis of estrogens from adrenal/ovarian androgens, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) or androstenedione (Adione), by estrogen-metabolizing enzymes is important. Besides estrone (E1) and estradiol (E2), androgen metabolites, such as androstene-3β, 17β-diol (Aenediol) or 5α-androstane-3β, 17β-diol (Aanediol), are known to have estrogenic functions, although they have been studied much less in breast cancer. To precisely elucidate steroid metabolism in breast cancer patients and to identify the pathobiological role of estrogenic androgen metabolites, concentrations of DHEA, Adione, Aenediol, Aanediol, E1, and E2 in pairs of serum and tumor tissue from patients with primary breast cancer were measured by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Cell proliferation assays using Aenediol were performed for four breast cancer cell lines. Serous E2 concentration was extremely low in postmenopausal women; however, a marked increase in tumor tissue was observed in hormone receptor-positive cases. E1 concentration, in contrast, was sustained at a higher level, even in postmenopausal serum, and did not increase in tumor tissue irrespective of the hormone receptor status. Dehydroepiandrosterone was most abundant in all samples, and exhibited a similar pattern as Adione and Aenediol. 5α-Androstane-3β, 17β-diol was undetectable in most samples. Androstene-3β, 17β-diol proliferated estrogen receptor-apositive breast cancer cells in the absence of E2. The intratumoral increase of E2, but not E1, in hormone receptor-positive postmenopausal breast cancer tissue, as well as the proliferative role of Aenediol, was elucidated.
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