Estrogen (E2) plays a critical role in the etiology and progression of human breast cancer. The estrogenic response is complex and not completely understood, including in terms of the involved responsive genes. Here we show that Hsp22 (synonyms: HspB8, E2IG1, H11), a member of the small heat shock protein (sHSP) superfamily, was induced by E2 in estrogen receptor–positive MCF-7 breast cancer cells, resulting in an elevated Hsp22 protein level, whereas it was not induced in estrogen receptor–negative MDA-MB-231 cells. This induction was prevented by the pure anti-estrogen ICI182780 (faslodex, fulvestrant), whereas tamoxifen, a substance with mixed estrogenic and anti-estrogenic properties, had no major inhibitory effect on this induction, nor did it induce Hsp22 on its own. Cadmium (Cd) is an environmental pollutant with estrogenic properties (metalloestrogen) that has been implicated in breast cancer. Treatment of MCF-7 cells with Cd also resulted in induction of Hsp22, and this induction was also inhibited by ICI182780. In live MCF-7 cells, Hsp22 interacted at the level of dimers with Hsp27, a related sHSP, as was shown by quantitative fluorescence resonance energy transfer measurements. In cytosolic extracts of MCF-7 cells, most of the E2- and Cd-induced Hsp22 was incorporated into high–molecular mass complexes. In part, Hsp22 and Hsp27 were components of distinct populations of these complexes. Finally, candidate elements in the Hsp22 promoter were identified by sequence analysis that could account for the induction of Hsp22 by E2 and Cd. Taken together, Hsp22 induction represents a new aspect of the estrogenic response with potential significance for the biology of estrogen receptor– positive breast cancer cells.
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