ErbB3 expression and dimerization with EGFR influence pancreatic cancer cell sensitivity to erlotinib

Cancer Biol Ther. 2007 Apr;6(4):548-54. doi: 10.4161/cbt.6.4.3849.


Abnormal expression and signaling of ErbB receptors has been implicated in multiple epithelial malignancies, including pancreatic cancer. Erlotinib, an epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor (EGFR-TKI), has been recently approved for pancreatic cancer treatment, but there are no reliable predictors of patient response. Expression of additional ErbB receptors seems to influence tumor response to EGFR-targeted therapy. We analyzed the influence of ErbB3 expression on pancreatic cancer cell response to erlotinib treatment. Proliferation assays of five human pancreatic cancer cell lines were performed following treatment with erlotinib. Expression and phosphorylation profiles of ErbB receptors and downstream adaptor protein (Akt, ERK1/2, STAT3, mTOR) were evaluated following stimulation with EGF or neuregulin-beta. The formation of EGFR homodimers and EGFR-ErbB3 heterodimers, necessary to enable ErbB3 downstream signaling, was demonstrated by chemical cross-linking assays. The effects of RNA inhibition of ErbB3 on sensitivity to erlotinib treatment were evaluated in AsPC-1 pancreatic cancer cells. Erlotinib inhibited Akt phosphorylation and proliferation of all the ErbB3-expressing cell lines but did not affect mTOR activation. Cross-linking studies confirmed the presence of EGFR-ErbB3 heterodimers in pancreatic cancer cells. Only the ErbB3-deficient MIA PaCa-2 cells displayed persistent Akt activation and ongoing proliferation in spite of erlotinib treatment. siRNA-mediated inhibition of ErbB3 expression in AsPC-1 cells resulted in acquired resistance to erlotinib treatment. Pancreatic cancer cells which lack ErbB3 do not display activation of the ErbB3-PI3K-Akt cascade induced by EGFR/ErbB3 heterodimers and become less critically dependent on EGFR signaling and therefore resistant to erlotinib. Pancreatic cancer expression of ErbB3 may be useful for EGFR-targeted therapy patient selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Dimerization
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism*
  • Erlotinib Hydrochloride
  • Humans
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Quinazolines / pharmacology*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / pharmacology
  • Receptor, ErbB-3 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptor, ErbB-3 / genetics
  • Receptor, ErbB-3 / metabolism*


  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Quinazolines
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Erlotinib Hydrochloride
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Receptor, ErbB-3
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt