Background: PI3K signaling is frequently activated in breast cancer and is targeted by PI3K inhibitors. However, resistance of tumor cells to PI3K inhibition, often mediated by activated receptor tyrosine kinases, is commonly observed and reduces the potency of PI3K inhibitors. Therefore, new treatment strategies to overcome resistance to PI3K inhibitors are urgently needed to boost their efficacy. The phosphatase SHP2, which plays a crucial role in mediating signal transduction between receptor tyrosine kinases and both the PI3K and MAPK pathways, is a potential target for combination treatment.
Methods: We tested combinations of PI3K and SHP2 inhibitors in several experimental breast cancer models that are resistant to PI3K inhibition. Using cell culturing, biochemical and genetic approaches, we evaluated tumor cell proliferation and signaling output in cells treated with PI3K and SHP2 inhibitors.
Results: Combination treatment with PI3K and SHP2 inhibitors counteracted both acquired and intrinsic breast cancer cell resistance to PI3K inhibition that is mediated by activated receptor tyrosine kinases. Dual PI3K and SHP2 inhibition blocked proliferation and led to sustained inactivation of PI3K and MAPK signaling, where resistant cells rapidly re-activated these pathways upon PI3K inhibitor monotreatment. In addition, we demonstrate that overexpression of SHP2 induced resistance to PI3K inhibition, and that SHP2 was frequently activated during the development of PI3K inhibitor resistance after prolonged treatment of sensitive cells.
Conclusions: Our results highlight the importance of SHP2 as a player in resistance to PI3K inhibitors. Combination treatment with PI3K and SHP2 inhibitors could pave the way for significant improvements in therapies for breast cancer.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Drug resistance; PI3K and MAPK signaling; SHP2; Targeted therapy.
© 2022. The Author(s).