Background: Gastric cancer is the second leading cause of cancer mortality in the world. The receptor tyrosine kinase MET is constitutively activated in many gastric cancers and its expression is strictly required for survival of some gastric cancer cells. Thus, MET is considered a good candidate for targeted therapeutic intervention in this type of tumor, and MET inhibitors recently entered clinical trials. One of the major problems of therapies targeting tyrosine kinases is that many tumors are not responsive to treatment or eventually develop resistance to the drugs. Perspective studies are thus mandatory to identify the molecular mechanisms that could cause resistance to these therapies.
Results: Our in vitro and in vivo results demonstrate that, in MET-addicted gastric cancer cells, the activation of HER (Human Epidermal Receptor) family members induces resistance to MET silencing or inhibition by PHA-665752 (a selective kinase inhibitor). We provide molecular evidences highlighting the role of EGFR, HER3, and downstream signaling pathways common to MET and HER family in resistance to MET inhibitors. Moreover, we show that an in vitro generated gastric cancer cell line resistant to MET-inhibition displays overexpression of HER family members, whose activation contributes to maintenance of resistance.
Conclusions: Our findings predict that gastric cancer tumors bearing constitutive activation of HER family members are poorly responsive to MET inhibition, even if this receptor is constitutively active. Moreover, the appearance of these alterations might also be responsible for the onset of resistance in initially responsive tumors.