Background: Some of patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) harboring somatic activating mutations of the epidermal growth factor receptor gene (EGFR mutations) show poor responses to EGFR-tyrosine kinase inhibitors (EGFR-TKIs) treatment. Cigarette smoking is the strongest documented risk factor for the development of lung cancer. Nicotine, while not carcinogenic by itself, has been shown to induce proliferation, angiogenesis, and the epithelial-mesenchymal transition; these effects might be associated with EGFR-TKI resistance.
Materials and methods: PC-9 and 11_18 cell lines (EGFR-mutated NSCLC cell lines) were cultured with 1μM nicotine for 3 months and were designated as PC-9/N and 11_18/N cell lines, respectively. The sensitivities of these cell lines to EGFR-TKI were then tested in vitro. Moreover, the association between the smoking status and the progression-free survival (PFS) period was investigated in patients with EGFR-mutated NSCLC who were treated with gefitinib.
Results: The PC-9/N and 11_18/N cell lines were resistant to EGFR-TKI, compared with controls. The phosphorylation of EGFR in these cell lines was reduced by EGFR-TKI to a smaller extent than that observed in controls, and a higher concentration of EGFR-TKI was capable of further decreasing the phosphorylation. Clinically, smoking history was an independent predictor of a poor PFS period on gefitinib treatment.
Conclusions: Chronic nicotine exposure because of cigarette smoking mediates resistance to EGFR-TKI via an EGFR signal. Smoking cessation is of great importance, while resistance may be overcome through the administration of high-dose EGFR-TKI.
Keywords: Cigarette smoking; Epidermal growth factor receptor mutation; Epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor; Nicotine; Non-small cell lung cancer.
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