Strong EGFR signaling in cell line models of ERBB2-amplified breast cancer attenuates response towards ERBB2-targeting drugs

Oncogenesis. 2012 Jul 2;1(7):e16. doi: 10.1038/oncsis.2012.16.


Increasing the efficacy of targeted cancer therapies requires the identification of robust biomarkers suitable for patient stratification. This study focused on the identification of molecular mechanisms causing resistance against the anti-ERBB2-directed therapeutic antibodies trastuzumab and pertuzumab presently used to treat patients with ERBB2-amplified breast cancer. Immunohistochemistry and clinical data were evaluated and yielded evidence for the existence of ERBB2-amplified breast cancer with high-level epidermal growth-factor receptor (EGFR) expression as a separate tumor entity. Because the proto-oncogene EGFR tightly interacts with ERBB2 on the protein level, the hypothesis that high-level EGFR expression might contribute to resistance against ERBB2-directed therapies was experimentally validated. SKBR3 and HCC1954 cells were chosen as model systems of EGFR-high/ERBB2-amplified breast cancer and exposed to trastuzumab, pertuzumab and erlotinib, respectively, and in combination. Drug impact was quantified in cell viability assays and on the proteomic level using reverse-phase protein arrays. Phosphoprotein dynamics revealed a significant downregulation of AKT signaling after exposure to trastuzumab, pertuzumab or a coapplication of both antibodies in SKBR3 cells but no concomitant impact on ERK1/2, RB or RPS6 phosphorylation. On the other hand, signaling was fully downregulated in SKBR3 cells after coinhibition of EGFR and ERBB2. Inhibitory effects in HCC1954 cells were driven by erlotinib alone, and a significant upregulation of RPS6 and RB phosphorylation was observed after coincubation with pertuzumab and trastuzumab. In summary, proteomic data suggest that high-level expression of EGFR in ERBB2-amplified breast cancer cells attenuates the effect of anti-ERBB2-directed antibodies. In conclusion, EGFR expression may serve as diagnostic and predictive biomarker to advance personalized treatment concepts of patients with ERBB2-amplified breast cancer.