Background: Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) has a highly polymorphic CA repeat region that affects transcription efficiency and anti-EGFR drug sensitivity in carcinomas. Erlotinib is an EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor approved for pancreatic cancer treatment. We analyzed the impact of EGFR intron 1 CA repeat lengths in pancreatic cancer clinical outcome and in vitro response to erlotinib.
Methods: Allele-specific EGFR intron 1 lengths were analyzed in 30 microdissected pancreatic cancer surgical specimens, matched peripheral blood samples, and 9 pancreatic cancer cell lines treated with erlotinib. CA repeat lengths were correlated with survival, tumor parameters, molecular markers of EGFR pathway activation, and in vitro antiproliferative effects of erlotinib.
Results: Both patient samples and cell lines displayed the full spectrum of EGFR CA repeat lengths (14-22 per allele). Patients with shorter sum of total CA repeats (<36) had worse median survival than patients with >or=36 repeats (13.7 vs 30.6 months, P = .002). Shorter patient EGFR intron 1 length correlated with EGFR expression (P = .026). Tumor intron 1 length was identical to that of matched peripheral blood specimens. There was no correlation between EGFR intron 1 length and pancreatic cancer stage, nodal status, grade, or expression of p-EGFR, p-ERK and p-Akt. Shorter EGFR intron 1 length was associated with in vitro response to erlotinib treatment (P = .02).
Conclusions: Shorter EGFR intron 1 CA repeat length is associated with worse pancreatic cancer clinical prognosis and in vitro response to erlotinib. EGFR intron 1 length can be reliably measured in peripheral blood and may translate into a quantitative predictive marker of both pancreatic cancer aggressiveness and erlotinib sensitivity.