Purpose: Phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) loss or activating mutations of phosphoinositol-3 (PI3) kinase (PIK3CA) may be associated with trastuzumab resistance. Trastuzumab, the humanized human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) monoclonal antibody, and lapatinib, an epidermal growth factor receptor/HER2 tyrosine kinase inhibitor, are both established treatments for HER2-overexpressing breast cancers. Understanding of the cellular response to HER2-targeted therapies is needed to tailor treatments and to identify patients less likely to benefit.
Methods: We evaluated the effect of trastuzumab or lapatinib in three HER2-overexpressing cell lines. We confirmed the in vitro observations in two neoadjuvant clinical trials in patients with HER2 overexpression; 35 patients received trastuzumab as a single agent for the first 3 weeks, then docetaxel every 3 weeks for 12 weeks (trastuzumab regimen), whereas 49 patients received lapatinib as a single agent for 6 weeks, followed by trastuzumab/docetaxel for 12 weeks before primary surgery (lapatinib regimen). Apoptosis, Ki67, p-MAPK, p-AKT, and PTEN were assessed by immunohistochemistry. Genomic DNA was sequenced for PIK3CA mutations.
Results: Under low PTEN conditions, in vitro data indicate that lapatinib alone and in combination with trastuzumab was effective in decreasing p-MAPK and p-AKT levels, whereas trastuzumab was ineffective. In the clinical trials, we confirmed that low PTEN or activating mutation in PIK3CA conferred resistance to the trastuzumab regimen (P = .015), whereas low PTEN tumors were associated with a high pathologic complete response rate (P = .007).
Conclusion: Activation of PI3 kinase pathway is associated with trastuzumab resistance, whereas low PTEN predicted for response to lapatinib. These observations support clinical trials with the combination of both agents.