The HER2 proto-oncogene encodes a transmembrane glycoprotein of 185 kDa (p185(HER2)) with intrinsic tyrosine kinase activity. Amplification of the HER2 gene and overexpression of its product induce cell transformation. Numerous studies have demonstrated the prognostic relevance of p185(HER2), which is overexpressed in 10% to 40% of human breast tumors. Recent data suggest that p185(HER2) is a ligand orphan receptor that amplifies the signal provided by other receptors of the HER family by heterodimerizing with them. Ligand-dependent activation of HER1, HER3, and HER4 by EGF or heregulin results in heterodimerization and, thereby, HER2 activation. HER2 overexpression is associated with breast cancer patient responsiveness to doxorubicin, to cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, and fluorouracil (CMF), and to paclitaxel, whereas tamoxifen was found to be ineffective and even detrimental in patients with HER2-positive tumors. In vitro analyses have shown that the role of HER2 overexpression in determining the sensitivity of cancer cells to drugs is complex, and molecules involved in its signaling pathway are probably the actual protagonists of the sensitivity to drugs. The association of HER2 overexpression with human tumors, its extracellular accessibility, as well as its involvement in tumor aggressiveness are all factors that make this receptor an appropriate target for tumor-specific therapies. A number of approaches are being investigated as possible therapeutic strategies that target HER2: (1) growth inhibitory antibodies, which can be used alone or in combination with standard chemotherapeutics; (2) tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI), which have been developed in an effort to block receptor activity because phosphorylation is the key event leading to activation and initiation of the signaling pathway; and (3) active immunotherapy, because the HER2 oncoprotein is immunogenic in some breast carcinoma patients.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.