Departments of Urology and Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, University of Kentucky, College of Medicine, Lexington, KY 40536, USA.
The role of the androgen receptor (AR) signaling axis in the progression of prostate cancer is a cornerstone to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms causing castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). Resistance of advanced prostate cancer to available treatment options makes it a clinical challenge that results in approximately 30,000 deaths of American men every year. Since the historic discovery by Dr. Huggins more than 70 years ago, androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) has been the principal treatment for advanced prostate cancer. Initially, ADT induces apoptosis of androgen-dependent prostate cancer epithelial cells and regression of androgen-dependent tumors. However, the majority of patients with advanced prostate cancer progress and become refractory to ADT due to emergence of androgen-independent prostate cancer cells driven by aberrant AR activation. Microtubule-targeting agents such as taxanes, docetaxel and paclitaxel, have enjoyed success in the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer; although new, recently designed mitosis-specific agents, such as the polo-kinase and kinesin-inhibitors, have yielded clinically disappointing results. Docetaxel, as a first-line chemotherapy, improves prostate cancer patient survival by months, but tumor resistance to these therapeutic agents inevitably develops. On a molecular level, progression to CRPC is characterized by aberrant AR expression, de novo intraprostatic androgen production, and cross talk with other oncogenic pathways. Emerging evidence suggests that reactivation of epithelial-mesenchymal-transition (EMT) processes may facilitate the development of not only prostate cancer but also prostate cancer metastases. EMT is characterized by gain of mesenchymal characteristics and invasiveness accompanied by loss of cell polarity, with an increasing number of studies focusing on the direct involvement of androgen-AR signaling axis in EMT, tumor progression, and therapeutic resistance. In this article, we discuss the current knowledge of mechanisms via which the AR signaling drives therapeutic resistance in prostate cancer metastatic progression and the novel therapeutic interventions targeting AR in CRPC.
Keywords: Androgen receptor, taxanes, prostate cancer, therapeutic resistance, tumor progression, castration resistance, epithelial-mesenchymal transition.