Afatinib is an irreversible epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) that is known to be effective against the EGFR T790M variant, which accounts for half of the mechanisms of acquired resistance to reversible EGFR-TKIs. However, acquired resistance to afatinib was also observed in clinical use. Thus, elucidating and overcoming the mechanisms of resistance are important issues in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. In this study, we established various afatinib-resistant cell lines and investigated the resistance mechanisms. EGFR T790M mutations were not detected using direct sequencing in established resistant cells. Several afatinib-resistant cell lines displayed MET amplification, and these cells were sensitive to the combination of afatinib plus crizotinib. As a further investigation, a cell line that acquired resistance to afatinib plus crizotinib, HCC827-ACR, was established from one of the MET amplified-cell lines. Several afatinib-resistant cell lines including HCC827-ACR displayed epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) features and epigenetic silencing of miR-200c, which is a suppresser of EMT. In addition, these cell lines also exhibited overexpression of ALDH1A1 and ABCB1, which are putative stem cell markers, and resistance to docetaxel. In conclusion, we established afatinib-resistant cells and found that MET amplification, EMT, and stem cell-like features are observed in cells with acquired resistance to EGFR-TKIs. This finding may provide clues to overcoming resistance to EGFR-TKIs.
Keywords: Afatinib; EGFR-TKI; cancer stem cells; drug resistance; non-small cell lung cancer.
© 2015 The Authors. Cancer Science published by Wiley Publishing Asia Pty Ltd on behalf of Japanese Cancer Association.