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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Apr 27;96(9):4995-5000.

The ErbB-2/HER2 oncoprotein of human carcinomas may function solely as a shared coreceptor for multiple stroma-derived growth factors.

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  • 1Department of Immunology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


The erbB-2/HER2 oncogene is overexpressed in a significant fraction of human carcinomas of the breast, ovary, and lung in a manner that correlates with poor prognosis. Although the encoded protein resembles several receptors for growth factors, no high affinity ligand of ErbB-2 has so far been fully characterized. However, several lines of evidence have raised the possibility that ErbB-2 can augment signal transduction initiated by binding of certain growth factors to their direct receptors. Here, we contrasted these two models of ErbB-2 function: First, examination of a large series of epidermal growth factor (EGF)-like ligands and neuregulins, including virus-encoded ligands as well as related motifs derived from the precursor of EGF, failed to detect interactions with ErbB-2 when this protein was singly expressed. Second, by using antibodies that block inter-ErbB interactions and cells devoid of surface ErbB-2, we learned that signaling by all ligands examined, except those derived from the precursor of EGF, was enhanced by the oncoprotein. These results imply that ErbB-2 evolved as a shared receptor subunit of all ErbB-specific growth factors. Thus, oncogenicity of ErbB-2 in human epithelia may not rely on the existence of a specific ligand but rather on its ability to act as a coreceptor for multiple stroma-derived growth factors.

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