Chronic ethanol exposure enhances the aggressiveness of breast cancer: The role of p38γ

Mei Xu, Siying Wang, Zhenhua Ren, Jacqueline A. Frank, Xiuwei H. Yang, Zhuo Zhang, Zun Ji Ke, Xianglin Shi, Jia Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Both epidemiological and experimental studies suggest that ethanol may enhance aggressiveness of breast cancer. We have previously demonstrated that short term exposure to ethanol (12-48 hours) increased migration/invasion in breast cancer cells overexpressing ErbB2, but not in breast cancer cells with low expression of ErbB2, such as MCF7, BT20 and T47D breast cancer cells. In this study, we showed that chronic ethanol exposure transformed breast cancer cells that were not responsive to short term ethanol treatment to a more aggressive phenotype. Chronic ethanol exposure (10 days - 2 months) at 100 (22 mM) or 200 mg/dl (44 mM) caused the scattering of MCF7, BT20 and T47D cell colonies in a 3-dimension culture system. Chronic ethanol exposure also increased colony formation in an anchorageindependent condition and stimulated cell invasion/migration. Chronic ethanol exposure increased cancer stem-like cell (CSC) population by more than 20 folds. Breast cancer cells exposed to ethanol in vitro displayed a much higher growth rate and metastasis in mice. Ethanol selectively activated p38γ MAPK and RhoC but not p38a/β in a concentration-dependent manner. SP-MCF7 cells, a derivative of MCF7 cells which compose mainly CSC expressed high levels of phosphorylated p38γ MAPK. Knocking-down p38γ MAPK blocked ethanol-induced RhoC activation, cell scattering, invasion/migration and ethanol-increased CSC population. Furthermore, knockingdown p38γ MAPK mitigated ethanol-induced tumor growth and metastasis in mice. These results suggest that chronic ethanol exposure can enhance the aggressiveness of breast cancer by activating p38γ MAPK/RhoC pathway.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3489-3505
Number of pages17
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (AA017226 and AA015407).


  • Alcohol abuse
  • Cancer stem cells
  • Mammary tumor
  • Metastasis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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