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Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2003;114:315-33; discussion 333-4.

The EGF receptor family--multiple roles in proliferation, differentiation, and neoplasia with an emphasis on HER4.

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  • 1Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.


The EGF Receptor (EGFR), the first transmembrane receptor tyrosine kinase cloned and sequenced, and its closely related family members HER2, HER3, and HER4, play myriad roles in mammalian growth and development. Receptor activation involves ligand binding to separate receptors followed by formation of active dimers. These receptors can signal as homodimers or they can subtly alter signaling output by heterodimerizing with other family members. Adding complexity, these receptors with varying specificity bind at least 10 ligands from two ligand families, the EGF and neuregulin/heregulin families. This signaling system's impact on human neoplasia is underscored by the following: i.) EGFR is overexpressed or activated by autocrine or paracrine growth factor loops in at least 50% of epithelial malignancies; ii.) HER2 is amplified and dramatically overexpressed in approximately 20%-25% or breast cancers; iii) HER3 and HER4 are variably expressed in breast and other cancers. Overexpression and/or activation of EGFR, HER2 and HER3 has been correlated with poor tumor prognosis; antibody and small molecule inhibitors of their activity are being tested as therapy in cancer patients. However, the signaling complexity engendered by four interacting receptors and ten ligands makes it difficult to definitively measure receptor signaling output in human tumors and even makes mechanistic studies of the family's role in normal physiology and neoplastic transformation a challenge. In spite of the literature's emphasis on growth control, activation by some EGF receptor family member ligands can produce tumor cell differentiation, characterized by growth cessation and differentiation gene product synthesis. The present work delineates a role for HER4 in breast cancer cell differentiation and demonstrates that HER4 is both necessary and sufficient to produce an anti-proliferative signal. These

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