Increased expression of erbB3 in colorectal cancer is associated with concomitant increase in the level of erbB2

Hum Pathol. 1998 Aug;29(8):771-7. doi: 10.1016/s0046-8177(98)90444-0.


ErbB3 is a transmembrane signaling molecule that shares close structural homology with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), erbB2, and erbB4. They have all been implicated in cell transformation and tumor pathogenesis, but very little is known about the role of erbB3 in normal colon and colorectal cancer. Therefore, in the current study, we determined whether erbB3 is found in normal human colon and whether its expression is altered in colorectal cancer. Because of some evidence that erbB3 might interact with erbB2 and EGFR, respectively, by heterodimerization, we also included erbB2 and EGFR analysis with special regard to coexpression. The study was performed on 35 patients operated on for colorectal carcinoma. The normal human colon showed weak erbB3 and erbB2 immunostaining, predominantly in surface epithelial cells. EGFR immunoreactivity in normal colon varied from weak to strong. In contrast, in 31 of 35 (89%) and in 29 of 35 (83%) colonic cancers, moderate to strong immunoreactivity for erbB3 and erbB2, respectively, was present in most epithelial cancer cells. A concomitant erbB3 and erbB2 immunostaining advantage could be found in 77% of cancerous tissues in comparison with the normal colon. No difference in EGFR immunostaining was evident between normal colon and cancer. Northern blot analysis showed an increase in erbB3 and erbB2 mRNA levels in 64% of cancers in comparison with normal colon samples. By densitometry, 2.3-fold and a 1.5-fold significant increases in erbB3 and erbB2 mRNA levels, respectively, were calculated in the cancerous tissues. Eighty-five percent of cancers with erbB3 mRNA overexpression showed an increase in erbB2 mRNA. Southern blot analysis did not indicate any gene amplification or rearrangement responsible for erbB2 or erbB3 overexpression. EGFR, however, was decreased in cancer on mRNA level. These findings indicate that erbB2 and erbB3, but not EGFR, may contribute to tumor growth and disease progression in colon cancer. The correlation between increased erbB2 and erbB3 expression in both Northern blots and immunohistochemical analysis suggests a co-overexpression of erbB2 and erbB3 and might support the hypothesis that these two growth factor receptors act together by heterodimer formation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / metabolism*
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Blotting, Northern
  • Blotting, Southern
  • Colon / metabolism
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / genetics
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism*
  • Receptor, ErbB-3


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Receptor, ErbB-3