Each of the three members of the p160 steroid receptor coactivator (SRC) family of coactivators (SRC-1, SRC-2 and SRC-3) stimulates estrogen receptor (ER)-α function in trans-activation assays. Consequently, we sought to elucidate their contributions to the ER-regulated processes of cell proliferation, apoptosis, and the expression of ERα target genes in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. The small interfering RNA depletion of SRC-2 or SRC-3 but not SRC-1 inhibited growth of MCF-7 cells, and this was reflected in decreased cell cycle progression and increased apoptosis in SRC-2- or SRC-3-depleted cells as well as a reduction in ERα transcriptional activity measured on a synthetic reporter gene. However, only SRC-3 depletion blocked estradiol stimulated cell proliferation. Depletion of SRC-1 did not affect these events, and together this reveals functional differences between each of the three SRC family coactivators. Regulation of the endogenous ERα target gene, c-myc was not affected by depletion of any of the p160 coactivators although depletion of each of them decreased pS2 mRNA expression in estradiol-treated MCF-7 cells. Moreover, progesterone receptor and cyclin D1 gene expression were decreased in SRC-3 small interfering RNA-treated cells. Expression of mRNA and protein levels for the antiapoptotic gene, Bcl-2 was dependent on SRC-3 expression, whereas Bcl-2 protein but not mRNA expression also was sensitive to SRC-1 depletion. Together these data indicate that the closely related p160 coactivators are not functionally redundant in breast cancer cells because they play gene-specific roles in regulating mRNA and protein expression, and they therefore are likely to make unique contributions to breast tumorigenesis
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