Mechanisms of resistance to anti-human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 agents in breast cancer

Cancer Sci. 2011 Jan;102(1):1-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1349-7006.2010.01711.x. Epub 2010 Sep 6.


Approximately 20% of breast cancers are characterized by overexpression of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) protein and associated gene amplification, and the receptor tyrosine kinase is believed to play a critical role in the pathogenesis of these tumors. The development and implementation of trastuzumab, a humanized monoclonal antibody against the extracellular domain of HER2 protein, has significantly improved treatment outcomes in patients with HER2-overexpressing breast cancer. However, despite this clinical usefulness, unmet needs for better prediction of trastuzumab's response and overcoming primary and acquired resistance remain. In this review, we discuss several potential mechanisms of resistance to trastuzumab that have been closely studied over the last decade. Briefly, these mechanisms include: impaired access of trastuzumab to HER2 by expression of extracellular domain-truncated HER2 (p95 HER2) or overexpression of MUC4; alternative signaling from insulin-like growth factor-1 receptor, other epidermal growth factor receptor family members, or MET; aberrant downstream signaling caused by loss of phosphatase and tensin homologs deleted from chromosome 10 (PTEN), PIK3CA mutation, or downregulation of p27; or FCGR3A polymorphisms. In addition, we discuss potential strategies for overcoming resistance to trastuzumab. Specifically, the epidermal growth factor receptor/HER2 tyrosine kinase inhibitor lapatinib partially overcame trastuzumab resistance in a clinical setting, so its efficacy results and limited data regarding potential mechanisms of resistance to the drug are also discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lapatinib
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / physiology
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / physiology
  • Quinazolines / therapeutic use
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / physiology
  • Receptors, IgG / genetics
  • Signal Transduction
  • Trastuzumab


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • FCGR3A protein, human
  • Quinazolines
  • Receptors, IgG
  • Lapatinib
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • PIK3CA protein, human
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • PTEN protein, human
  • Trastuzumab