Insulin‐like growth factors modulate the growth inhibitory effects of retinoic acid on MCF‐7 breast cancer cells Academic Article uri icon


MeSH Major

  • Breast Neoplasms
  • Growth Inhibitors
  • Growth Substances
  • Insulin
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Tretinoin


  • Retinoids are currently being tested for the treatment and prevention of several human cancers, including breast cancer. However, the anti-cancer and growth inhibitory mechanisms of retinoids are not well understood. All-trans retinoic acid (RA) inhibits the growth of the estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer cell line, MCF-7, in a reversible and dose-dependent manner. In contrast, insulin-like growth factors (IGF-I, IGF-II) and insulin are potent stimulators of the proliferation of MCF-7 and several other breast cancer cell lines. Pharmacologic doses of RA (> or = 10(-6) M) completely inhibit IGF-I-stimulated MCF-7 cell growth. Published data suggest that the growth inhibitory action of RA on IGF-stimulated cell growth is linear and dose-dependent, similar to RA inhibition of unstimulated or estradiol-stimulated MCF-7 cell growth. Surprisingly, we have found that IGF-I or insulin-stimulated cell growth is increased to a maximum of 132% and 127%, respectively, by cotreatment with 10(-7) M RA, and that 10(-9) - 10(-7) M RA increase cell proliferation compared to IGF-I or insulin alone. MCF-7 cells that stably overexpress IGF-II are also resistant to the growth inhibitory effects of 10(-9) - 10(-7) M RA. Treatment with the IGF-I receptor blocking antibody, alpha IR-3, restores RA-induced growth inhibition of IGF-I-treated or IGF-II-overexpressing MCF-7 cells, indicating that the IGF-I receptor is mediating these effects. IGFs cannot reverse all RA effects since the altered cell culture morphology of RA-treated cells is similar in growth-inhibited cultures and in IGF-II expressing clones that are resistant to RA-induced growth inhibition. These results indicate that RA action on MCF-7 cells is biphasic in the presence of IGF-I or insulin with 10(-9) - 10(-7) M RA enhancing cell proliferation and > or = 10(-6) M RA causing growth inhibition. As IGF-I and IGF-II ligands are frequently detectable in breast tumor tissues, their potential for modulation of RA effects should be considered when evaluating retinoids for use in in vivo experimental studies and for clinical purposes. Additionally, the therapeutic use of inhibitors of IGF action in combination with RA is suggested by these studies.

publication date

  • January 1995



  • Academic Article



  • eng

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1002/jcp.1041650124

PubMed ID

  • 7559803

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 212

end page

  • 21


  • 165


  • 1