Breast tumor cells isolated from in vitro resistance to trastuzumab remain sensitive to trastuzumab anti-tumor effects in vivo and to ADCC killing

Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2009 Nov;58(11):1887-96. doi: 10.1007/s00262-009-0700-0. Epub 2009 Apr 2.


An understanding of model systems of trastuzumab (Herceptin) resistance is of great importance since the humanized monoclonal antibody is now used as first line therapy with paclitaxel in patients with metastatic Her2 overexpressing breast cancer, and the majority of their tumors has innate resistance or develops acquired resistance to the treatment. Previously, we selected trastuzumab-resistant clonal cell lines in vitro from trastuzumab-sensitive parental BT-474 cells and showed that cloned trastuzumab-resistant cell lines maintain similar levels of the extracellular Her2 receptor, bind trastuzumab as efficiently as the parental cells, but continue to grow in the presence of trastuzumab and display cell cycle profiles and growth rates comparable to parental cells grown in the absence of trastuzumab (Kute et al. in Cytometry A 57:86-93, 2004). We now show that trastuzumab-resistant and trastuzumab-sensitive cells both surprisingly display trastuzumab-mediated growth inhibition in athymic nude mice. This demonstrates that resistance developed in vitro is not predictive of resistance in vivo. The observation that in vitro resistant cells are sensitive to trastuzumab in vivo could be explained by antibody dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC). Therefore, both parental and trastuzumab-resistant cells were assayed for ADCC in real time on electroplates with and without trastuzumab in the presence of a natural killer cell line (NK-92), and granulocyte or mononuclear cellular fractions isolated from human peripheral blood. Mononuclear cells and NK-92 cells were more effective in killing both parental and trastuzumab-resistant cells in the presence of trastuzumab. Both trastuzumab-resistant cells and trastuzumab-sensitive cells showed similar susceptibility to ADCC despite displaying divergent growth responses to trastuzumab. The granulocyte fraction was able to kill these cells with equal efficacy in the presence or absence of trastuzumab. These results support a model of trastuzumab tumor cell killing in vivo mediated primarily by ADCC from the mononuclear fraction of innate immune cells and suggest that in the clinical setting not only should changes in signaling transduction pathways be studied in acquired tumor resistance to trastuzumab, but also mechanisms by which tumors impede immune function should be evaluated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antibody-Dependent Cell Cytotoxicity*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / analysis
  • Trastuzumab


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Trastuzumab