HER2-positive breast cancer is currently managed with chemotherapy in combination with specific anti-HER2 therapies, including trastuzumab. However, a high percentage of patients with HER2-positive tumors do not respond to trastuzumab (primary resistance) or either recur (acquired resistance), mostly due to molecular alterations in the tumor that are either unknown or undetermined in clinical practice. Those alterations may cause the tumor to be refractory to treatment with trastuzumab, promoting tumor proliferation and metastasis. Using continued exposure of a HER2-positive cell line to trastuzumab, we generated a model of acquired resistance characterized by increased expression of several cytokines. Differential gene expression analysis indicated an overexpression of 15 genes, including five different chemokines, and highlighting CCL5/RANTES as the most overexpressed one. Functional studies, either by in vitro gene silencing or by in vitro and in vivo pharmacologic inhibition of the CCL5/CCR5 interaction with maraviroc, confirmed that CCL5 overexpression was implicated in acquired resistance to trastuzumab, which was mediated by ERK activation. In patient samples, increased CCL5 expression significantly correlated with lower rates of complete response after neoadjuvant therapy, confirmed by detection of high serum CCL5 levels by ELISA. Overexpression of CCL5 correlated with ERK phosphorylation in tumor cells and was statistically associated with worse disease-free survival and overall cancer survival in patients with early HER2-positive breast cancer.
©2020 American Association for Cancer Research.