Targeting TACE-dependent EGFR ligand shedding in breast cancer

J Clin Invest. 2007 Feb;117(2):337-45. doi: 10.1172/JCI29518. Epub 2007 Jan 11.


The ability to proliferate independently of signals from other cell types is a fundamental characteristic of tumor cells. Using a 3D culture model of human breast cancer progression, we have delineated a protease-dependent autocrine loop that provides an oncogenic stimulus in the absence of proto-oncogene mutation. Targeting this protease, TNF-alpha-converting enzyme (TACE; also referred to as a disintegrin and metalloproteinase 17 [ADAM17]), with small molecular inhibitors or siRNAs reverted the malignant phenotype in a breast cancer cell line by preventing mobilization of 2 crucial growth factors, TGF-alpha and amphiregulin. We show that TACE-dependent ligand shedding was prevalent in a series of additional breast cancer cell lines and, in all cases examined, was amenable to inhibition. Using existing patient outcome data, we demonstrated a strong correlation between TACE and TGFA expression in human breast cancers that was predictive of poor prognosis. Tumors resulting from inappropriate activation of the EGFR were common in multiple tissues and were, for the most part, refractory to current targeted therapies. The data presented here delineate the molecular mechanism by which constitutive EGFR activity may be achieved in tumor progression without mutation of the EGFR itself or downstream pathway components and suggest that this important oncogenic pathway might usefully be targeted upstream of the receptor.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • ADAM Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • ADAM Proteins / genetics
  • ADAM Proteins / metabolism*
  • ADAM17 Protein
  • Amphiregulin
  • Base Sequence
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • EGF Family of Proteins
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Ligands
  • Prognosis
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Transforming Growth Factor alpha / genetics
  • Transforming Growth Factor alpha / metabolism


  • AREG protein, human
  • Amphiregulin
  • EGF Family of Proteins
  • Glycoproteins
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Ligands
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Transforming Growth Factor alpha
  • ErbB Receptors
  • ADAM Proteins
  • ADAM17 Protein
  • ADAM17 protein, human