The ErbB receptor tyrosine kinase family consists of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor (ErbB1) and three related receptors (ErbB2, ErbB3, ErbB4). Their intrinsic tyrosine kinases can be activated by receptor-dimerization induced by numerous ligands or overexpression. ErbB receptors are frequently overexpressed in breast cancer, and their overexpression is associated with protection from apoptosis. To directly assess their role in apoptosis sensitivity of breast cancer cells, we established MCF-7 breast carcinoma cell lines overexpressing each ErbB receptor alone or in all possible pairs. Overexpression of ErbB1, ErbB2 and ErbB4 receptors was enough to activate them as judged by their phosphorylation, whereas co-expression of other ErbB receptors was necessary for the phosphorylation of the ErbB3. Surprisingly, overexpression of the ErbB receptors even when combined with treatment with their ligands (EGF, transforming growth factor alpha, betacellulin, neuregulins) failed to protect the MCF-7 cells from cell death induced by either tumor necrosis factor (TNF) or serum starvation. During starvation TGF-alpha, however, increased the cell size of the ErbB1 overexpressing cell line, and neuregulin1-beta1 increased that of all cell lines. In conclusion, our data does not support the role of ErbB receptors in the regulation of cell death induced by TNF or serum starvation, and the observed association in breast cancer may be due to other concomitant changes.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.