HER3 activation contributes toward the emergence of ALK inhibitor-tolerant cells in ALK-rearranged lung cancer with mesenchymal features

NPJ Precis Oncol. 2022 Jan 18;6(1):5. doi: 10.1038/s41698-021-00250-8.


Anaplastic lymphoma kinase-tyrosine kinase inhibitors (ALK-TKIs) have shown dramatic efficacy in patients with ALK-rearranged lung cancer; however, complete response in these patients is rare. Here, we investigated the molecular mechanisms underlying the emergence and maintenance of drug-tolerant cells in ALK-rearranged lung cancer. Cell based-assays demonstrated that HER3 activation and mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition, mediated through ZEB1 proteins, help maintain cell survival and induce the emergence of ALK-TKI-tolerant cells. Compared with ALK-TKIs alone, cotreatment with pan-HER inhibitor afatinib and ALK-TKIs prevented tumor regrowth, leading to the eradication of tumors in ALK-rearranged tumors with mesenchymal features. Moreover, pre-treatment vimentin expression in clinical specimens obtained from patients with ALK-rearranged lung cancer was associated with poor ALK-TKI treatment outcomes. These results demonstrated that HER3 activation plays a pivotal role in the emergence of ALK-TKI-tolerant cells. Furthermore, the inhibition of HER3 signals combined with ALK-TKIs dramatically improves treatment outcomes for ALK-rearranged lung cancer with mesenchymal features.