Mechanism of action of anti-HER2 monoclonal antibodies: scientific update on trastuzumab and 2C4

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2003;532:253-68. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-0081-0_21.


The HER family of transmembrane tyrosine kinase receptors is composed of four members, BER1 to HER4. HER2 is a ligand-orphan receptor expressed in many human tumors and overexpressed in 25-30% of breast cancers. HER2 amplifies the signal provided by other receptors of the HER family by forming heterodimers. The essential role of HER2 in the HER signaling network led to the development of anti-HER2 monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) for cancer therapy. In particular, the humanized MAb trastuzumab (Herceptin) has antitumor activity against HER2-overexpressing human breast tumor cells and is widely used for the treatment of women with HER2 overexpressing breast cancers. Trastuzumab induces HER2 receptor downmodulation and, as a result, inhibits critical signalling pathways (i.e. ras-Raf-MAPK and PI3K/Akt) and blocks cell cycle progression by inducing the formation of p27/Cdk2 complexes. Trastuzumab also inhibits HER2 cleavage, preceding antibody-induced receptor downmodulation, and this effect might contribute to its antitumor activity in some cancers. In vivo, trastuzumab inhibits angiogenesis and induces antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity. A limitation of trastuzumab is that its activity is largely restricted to breast cancers with the highest level of HER2 overexpression or HER2 gene amplification. However, there is a large population of breast cancers and of many other tumors that have low or moderate HER2 expression. In such tumors, HER2 functions as a preferred coreceptor to form heterodimers with HER1 (EGFR), HER3 or HER4. For this reason, a humanized monoclonal antibody, called 2C4, that targets the role of HER2 as a coreceptor is under active development. 2C4 binds to a different epitope of HER2 ectodomain than trastuzumab and sterically hinders HER2 recruitment in heterodimers with other HER receptors. This results in the inhibition of signalling by HER2-based heterodimers both in cells with low and high HER2 expression. In vitro and in vivo antitumor activity has been reported in a range of breast and prostate tumor models. Therefore, 2C4 may have potential against a wide variety of solid tumors. Phase I trials are underway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / chemistry
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dimerization
  • Epitopes
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Models, Biological
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / chemistry
  • Signal Transduction
  • Trastuzumab


  • 2C4 antibody
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Epitopes
  • Ligands
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Trastuzumab