Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Constantinos Koumenis

Second Advisor

Jim Delikatny


Tamoxifen is the most widely used adjuvant chemotherapeutic for the treatment of estrogen receptor (ER) positive breast cancer, yet a large body of clinical and preclinical data indicates that tamoxifen can modulate multiple cellular processes independently of ER status. Here, we describe the ER-independent effects of tamoxifen on tumor metabolism. Using combined pharmacological and genetic knockout approaches, we demonstrate that tamoxifen inhibits oxygen consumption via inhibition of mitochondrial complex I, resulting in an increase in the AMP/ATP ratio and activation of the AMPK signaling pathway in vitro and in vivo. We also show that tamoxifen-induced cytotoxicity is modulated by isoform-specific effects of AMPK signaling, in which AMPKα1 promotes cell death through inhibition of the mTOR pathway and translation. Tamoxifen treatment also reprograms cellular metabolism by promoting glycolysis, and altering fatty acid metabolism, leading to the depletion of intracellular lipid stores. By using agents which target concurrently distinct adaptive responses to tamoxifen-mediated metabolic reprogramming, we demonstrate increased cytotoxicity. Tamoxifen synergizes with glycolytic inhibitors to kill breast cancer cells and can preferentially kill oxidative phosphorylation-dependent populations. Our results demonstrate novel metabolic perturbations by tamoxifen in tumor cells which can be exploited to expand the therapeutic potential of tamoxifen treatment beyond ER+ breast cancer.