The distribution of the therapeutic monoclonal antibodies cetuximab and trastuzumab within solid tumors

BMC Cancer. 2010 Jun 3;10:255. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-10-255.


Background: Poor distribution of some anticancer drugs in solid tumors may limit their anti-tumor activity.

Methods: Here we used immunohistochemistry to quantify the distribution of the therapeutic monoclonal antibodies cetuximab and trastuzumab in relation to blood vessels and to regions of hypoxia in human tumor xenografts. The antibodies were injected into mice implanted with human epidermoid carcinoma A431 or human breast carcinoma MDA-MB-231 transfected with ERBB2 (231-H2N) that express high levels of ErbB1 and ErbB2 respectively, or wild-type MDA-MB-231, which expresses intermediate levels of ErbB1 and low levels of ErbB2.

Results: The distribution of cetuximab in A431 xenografts and trastuzumab in 231-H2N xenografts was time and dose dependent. At early intervals after injection of 1 mg cetuximab into A431 xenografts, the concentration of cetuximab decreased with increasing distance from blood vessels, but became more uniformly distributed at later times; there remained however limited distribution and binding in hypoxic regions of tumors. Injection of lower doses of cetuximab led to heterogeneous distributions. Similar results were observed with trastuzumab in 231-H2N xenografts. In MDA-MB-231 xenografts, which express lower levels of ErbB1, homogeneity of distribution of cetuximab was achieved more rapidly.

Conclusions: Cetuximab and trastuzumab distribute slowly, but at higher doses achieve a relatively uniform distribution after about 24 hours, most likely due to their long half-lives in the circulation. There remains poor distribution within hypoxic regions of tumors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / administration & dosage
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacokinetics*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / blood supply
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism*
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cetuximab
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Female
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Injections, Intraperitoneal
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / genetics
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Transfection
  • Trastuzumab


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