Many types of human cancer are characterized by deregulation of the human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER) family of tyrosine kinase receptors. In some cancers, genomic events causing overactivity of individual HER family members are etiologically linked with the pathogenesis of these cancers, and constitute the driving signaling function underlying their tumorigenic behavior. HER3 stands out among this family as the only member lacking catalytic kinase function. Cancers with driving HER3 amplifications or mutations have not been found, and studies of its expression in tumors have been only weakly provocative. However, substantial evidence, predominantly from experimental models, now suggest that its non-catalytic functions are critically important in many cancers driven by its' HER family partners. Furthermore, new insights into the mechanism of activation in the HER family has provided clear evidence of functionality in the HER3 kinase domain. The convergence of structural, mechanistic, and experimental evidence highlighting HER3 functions that may be critical in tumorigenesis have now led to renewed efforts towards identification of cancers or subtypes of cancers wherein HER3 function may be important in tumor progression or drug resistance. It appears now that its failure to earn the traditional definition of an oncogene has allowed the tumor promoting functions of HER3 to elude the effects of cancer therapeutics. But experimental science has now unmasked the unpretentious role of HER3 in cancer biology, and the next generation of cancer therapies will undoubtedly perform much better because of it.
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