Lapatinib, a dual HER1/HER2 tyrosine kinase inhibitor, augments basal cleavage of HER2 extracellular domain (ECD) to inhibit HER2-driven cancer cell growth

J Cell Physiol. 2011 Jan;226(1):52-7. doi: 10.1002/jcp.22333.


The ultimate biological and clinical meaning of shed HER2 extracellular domain (ECD) has remained largely unclear until recently. Oversecretion of soluble HER2 ECD has been shown to inhibit growth of HER2-overexpressing cancer cells by promoting HER2 ECD dimerization with HER transmembrane receptors thus impairing their cross-tyrosine phosphorylation and decreasing their activation status. HER2-targeted drugs capable to enhance the occurrence of basal HER2 ECD shedding but simultaneously preventing formation of truncated cell membrane-bound HER2 intracellular fragment, which exhibits an undesirable constitutive kinase activity, might be extremely efficient at managing HER2-positive cancer disease. The dual HER1/HER2 Tyrosine Kinase inhibitor lapatinib, which works intracellularly and directly targets the TK domain of HER2, drastically augments basal shedding of HER2 ECD to inhibit HER2-driven cancer cell growth. Lapatinib treatment significantly augments the concentration of the inactive (unphosphorylated) form of HER2 protein at the tumor cell membrane and promotes an exacerbated HER2 ECD shedding to the extracellular milieu of HER2-overexpressing cancer cells. Exacerbated sensitivity of trastuzumab-resistant cancer cells, which contain nearly undetectable levels of soluble HER2 ECD when compared with trastuzumab-sensitive parental cells to lapatinib-induced cell growth inhibition, takes place when lapatinib treatment fully restores high levels of basal HER2 ECD shedding. The dramatic augmentation of HER2 ECD shedding that occurs upon treatment of with lapatinib is fully suppressed in lapatinib-refractory HER2-positive cells. These findings, altogether, may provide crucial insights concerning clinical studies aimed to accurately describe HER2 ECD as a potential predictor of response or resistance to the HER2-targeted drugs trastuzumab and lapatinib.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / administration & dosage
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Female
  • Gefitinib
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Lapatinib
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Quinazolines / administration & dosage
  • Quinazolines / pharmacology*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism*
  • Trastuzumab


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Quinazolines
  • Lapatinib
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Trastuzumab
  • Gefitinib