NOTCH3 Signaling Pathway Plays Crucial Roles in the Proliferation of ErbB2-negative Human Breast Cancer Cells

Cancer Res. 2008 Mar 15;68(6):1881-8. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-07-1597.


ErbB2-negative breast tumors represent a significant therapeutic hurdle because of a lack of effective molecular targets. Although NOTCH proteins are known to be involved in mammary tumorigenesis, the functional significance of these proteins in ErbB2-negative breast tumors is not clear. In the present study, we examined the expression of activated NOTCH receptors in human breast cancer cell lines, including ErbB2-negative and ErbB2-positive cell lines. Activated NOTCH1 and NOTCH3 proteins generated by gamma-secretase were detected in most of the cell lines tested, and both proteins activated CSL-mediated transcription. Down-regulation of NOTCH1 by RNA interference had little or no suppressive effect on the proliferation of either ErbB2-positive or ErbB2-negative cell lines. In contrast, down-regulation of NOTCH3 significantly suppressed proliferation and promoted apoptosis of the ErbB2-negative tumor cell lines. Down-regulation of NOTCH3 did not have a significant effect on the ErbB2-positive tumor cell lines. Down-regulation of CSL also suppressed the proliferation of ErbB2-negative breast tumor cell lines, indicating that the NOTCH-CSL signaling axis is involved in cell proliferation. Finally, NOTCH3 gene amplification was detected in a breast tumor cell line and one breast cancer tissue specimen even though the frequency of NOTCH3 gene amplification was low (<1%). Taken together, these findings indicate that NOTCH3-mediated signaling rather than NOTCH1-mediated signaling plays an important role in the proliferation of ErbB2-negative breast tumor cells and that targeted suppression of this signaling pathway may be a promising strategy for the treatment of ErbB2-negative breast cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Growth Processes / physiology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Gene Amplification
  • Humans
  • RNA Interference
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / deficiency*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism
  • Receptor, Notch3
  • Receptors, Notch / deficiency
  • Receptors, Notch / genetics
  • Receptors, Notch / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transfection


  • NOTCH3 protein, human
  • Receptor, Notch3
  • Receptors, Notch
  • Receptor, ErbB-2