Background: The HER2/neu oncogene is overexpressed in a substantial fraction of human tumors. HER2/neu overexpressing tumors may be intrinsically resistant to chemotherapy. The present study examined the ability of antisense-mediated downregulation of HER2/neu expression to enhance the antitumor effects of conventional chemotherapeutic agents against human tumor cells that overexpress HER2/neu.
Methods: The effects of HER2/neu antisense oligodeoxynucleotides (ODNs) on the growth inhibitory and proapoptotic activity of several distinct chemotherapeutic agents were examined in vitro. In vivo effects of HER2/neu antisense ODNs in combination with doxorubicin hydrochloride were assessed by examining the growth of human tumor xenografts implanted into nude mice.
Results: The proliferation of tumor cell lines that overexpress HER2/neu was inhibited by antisense ODNs in combination with conventional chemotherapeutic agents in an additive or synergistic fashion. Such combination therapy also demonstrated synergistic activation of apoptosis. HER2/neu antisense ODNs in combination with doxorubicin hydrochloride demonstrated synergistic antitumor effects in vivo as well.
Conclusions: Downregulation of HER2/neu expression can enhance the sensitivity of human cancer cells, which overexpress HER2/neu to the cytotoxic effects of chemotherapy. Antisense ODNs targeting the HER2/neu gene may play a role in cancer therapy.