Mechanisms of disease: understanding resistance to HER2-targeted therapy in human breast cancer

Nat Clin Pract Oncol. 2006 May;3(5):269-80. doi: 10.1038/ncponc0509.


Trastuzumab is a monoclonal antibody targeted against the human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER) 2 tyrosine kinase receptor, which is overexpressed in approximately 25% of invasive breast cancers. The majority of patients with metastatic breast cancer who initially respond to trastuzumab, however, demonstrate disease progression within 1 year of treatment initiation. Preclinical studies have indicated several molecular mechanisms that could contribute to the development of trastuzumab resistance. Increased signaling via the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt pathway could contribute to trastuzumab resistance because of activation of multiple receptor pathways that include HER2-related receptors or non-HER receptors such as the insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor, which appears to be involved in a cross-talk with HER2 in resistant cells. Additionally, loss of function of the tumor suppressor PTEN gene, the negative regulator of Akt, results in heightened Akt signaling that leads to decreased sensitivity to trastuzumab. Decreased interaction between trastuzumab and its target receptor HER2, which is due to steric hindrance of HER2 by cell surface proteins such as mucin-4 (MUC4), may block the inhibitory actions of trastuzumab. Novel therapies targeted against these aberrant molecular pathways offer hope that the effectiveness and duration of response to trastuzumab can be greatly improved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p27 / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / immunology
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism*
  • Receptor, IGF Type 1 / immunology
  • Signal Transduction / immunology
  • Trastuzumab


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p27
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Receptor, IGF Type 1
  • TPTE protein, human
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • Trastuzumab