Trastuzumab plus tamoxifen: anti-proliferative and molecular interactions in breast carcinoma

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2004 Jul;86(2):125-37. doi: 10.1023/b:brea.0000032981.20384.c6.


HER2 overexpression has been associated with anti-estrogen resistance in human breast cancer, and it has been suggested that the combined treatment of an anti-HER2 antibody plus tamoxifen has enhanced anti-cancer efficacy in breast cancer. The detailed anti-proliferative interactions between trastuzumab and tamoxifen were analyzed with the isobologram and Chou and Talalay methods, which assess the presence of synergy, addition or antagonism. We used the breast cancer cell lines that are estrogen receptor (ER)-positive and HER2-positive. We also analyzed the molecular changes on the HER2 and (ER) signaling pathways that are induced by trastuzumab plus tamoxifen. In terms of cancer cell proliferation, the simultaneous combination of trastuzumab and tamoxifen on BT-474 cells was more growth inhibitory (44%) than the treatment with trastuzumab (24%) or tamoxifen (31%) alone. Isobologram analysis of simultaneous trastuzumab plus tamoxifen exposure showed, however, that there were antagonistic interactions at an effect level of 30% (IC30). Using Chou and Talalay analysis we also observed antagonistic interactions at lower levels of cell kill, although there were additive effects at highest levels of cell kill. Trastuzumab followed by tamoxifen showed antagonism at all effects levels. Tamoxifen followed by trastuzumab showed antagonism at lower levels of cell kill, and additivity at higher levels of cell kill. Similar interactions were observed using T47D cells. The molecular effects of the combined treatment with trastuzumab plus tamoxifen on the levels of HER2 and ER signaling showed that, with respect to HER2 protein levels, trastuzumab downregulated HER2 by 27%, tamoxifen upregulated HER2 by 40%, and the combination of trastuzumab plus tamoxifen did not induce changes in HER2 respect to control. With respect to HER2 mRNA, trastuzumab upregulated HER2 mRNA to 367%, tamoxifen to 166%, and the combination to 401%. With respect to HER2 phosphorylation, trastuzumab upregulated HER2 phosphorylation to 352%, tamoxifen to 202% and the combination to 633%. Epidermal growth factor receptor levels were not changed by trastuzumab or tamoxifen alone, and were upregulated to 138% by the combination. The protein levels and activity of extracellular recptor kinase were not modified by trastuzumab, tamoxifen or the combination. Finally, estrogen receptor protein and mRNA levels were downregulated to about 50% by trastuzumab, tamoxifen or the combination. Taken together, our results show that in ER-positive breast cancer cells overexpressing HER2, trastuzumab plus tamoxifen have antagonistic interactions when used in combination, and that this antagonism may be related with an increase in HER2 signaling pathways that occurs when tamoxifen is added to trastuzumab.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / pharmacology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Drug Interactions
  • Female
  • Genes, erbB-2 / physiology
  • Humans
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / biosynthesis*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / drug effects
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology*
  • Trastuzumab
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Up-Regulation


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Tamoxifen
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Trastuzumab