Targeting Aberrant FGFR Signaling to Overcome CDK4/6 Inhibitor Resistance in Breast Cancer

Cells. 2021 Feb 1;10(2):293. doi: 10.3390/cells10020293.


Breast cancer (BC) is the most common cause of cancer-related death in women worldwide. Therapies targeting molecular pathways altered in BC had significantly enhanced treatment options for BC over the last decades, which ultimately improved the lives of millions of women worldwide. Among various molecular pathways accruing substantial interest for the development of targeted therapies are cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs)-in particular, the two closely related members CDK4 and CDK6. CDK4/6 inhibitors indirectly trigger the dephosphorylation of retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein by blocking CDK4/6, thereby blocking the cell cycle transition from the G1 to S phase. Although the CDK4/6 inhibitors abemaciclib, palbociclib, and ribociclib gained FDA approval for the treatment of hormone receptor (HR)-positive, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-negative BC as they significantly improved progression-free survival (PFS) in randomized clinical trials, regrettably, some patients showed resistance to these therapies. Though multiple molecular pathways could be mechanistically responsible for CDK4/6 inhibitor therapy resistance, one of the most predominant ones seems to be the fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR) pathway. FGFRs are involved in many aspects of cancer formation, such as cell proliferation, differentiation, and growth. Importantly, FGFRs are frequently mutated in BC, and their overexpression and/or hyperactivation correlates with CDK4/6 inhibitor resistance and shortened PFS in BC. Intriguingly, the inhibition of aberrant FGFR activity is capable of reversing the resistance to CDK4/6 inhibitors. This review summarizes the molecular background of FGFR signaling and discusses the role of aberrant FGFR signaling during cancer development in general and during the development of CDK4/6 inhibitor resistance in BC in particular, together with other possible mechanisms for resistance to CDK4/6 inhibitors. Subsequently, future directions on novel therapeutic strategies targeting FGFR signaling to overcome such resistance during BC treatment will be further debated.

Keywords: CDK4; CDK6; FGFR; breast cancer; inhibitor; therapy resistance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 4 / genetics
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 4 / metabolism*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 6 / genetics
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 6 / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Receptor, Fibroblast Growth Factor, Type 1 / genetics
  • Receptor, Fibroblast Growth Factor, Type 1 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction


  • FGFR1 protein, human
  • Receptor, Fibroblast Growth Factor, Type 1
  • CDK6 protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 4
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 6