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Histochem Cell Biol. 2007 May;127(5):541-53. Epub 2007 Mar 15.

The EGFR inhibitor gefitinib suppresses ligand-stimulated endocytosis of EGFR via the early/late endocytic pathway in non-small cell lung cancer cell lines.

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  • 1Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kyushu University, 3-1-1 Maidashi, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka, 812-8582, Japan.


The drug gefitinib (Iressa), which is a specific inhibitor of EGFR tyrosine kinase, has been shown to suppress the activation of EGFR signaling for survival and proliferation in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines. A recent study demonstrated rapid down-regulation of ligand-induced EGFR in a gefitinib-sensitive cell line and inefficient down-regulation of EGFR in a gefitinib-resistant cell line in the exponential phase of growth; this implies that each cell type employs a different unknown down-regulation mechanism occurs. However, the mechanism of drug sensitivity to gefitinib remains unclear. In this study, to further substantiate the effect of gefitinib on the EGFR down-regulation pathway and to understand the detailed internalization mechanism of gefitinib-sensitive PC9 and gefitinib-resistant QG56 cell lines, we examined the internalization of Texas red-EGF in the absence or presence of gefitinib in both cell lines. The distribution of internalized Texas red-EGF, early endosomes, and late endosomes/lysosomes was then assessed by confocal immunofluorescence microscopy. Here, we provide novel evidence that efficient endocytosis of EGF-EGFR occurs via the endocytic pathway in the PC9 cells, because the internalized Texas red-EGF-positive small punctate vesicles were transported to the late endosomes/lysosomes and then degraded within the lysosomes after 60 min of internalization. Additionally, gefitinib exerted a strong inhibitory effect on the endocytosis of EGFR in PC9 cells, and the internalization rate of EGFR from the plasma membrane via the early endosomes to the late endosomes/lysosomes was considerably delayed. This indicates that gefitinib efficiently suppresses ligand-stimulated endocytosis of EGFR via the early/late endocytic pathway in PC9 cells. In contrast, the internalization rate of ligand-induced EGFR was not significantly changed by gefitinib in QG56 cells because even in the absence of gefitinib, internalized EGFR accumulation was noted in the early and late endosomes after 60 min of internalization instead of its delivery to the lysosomes in QG56 cells. This suggests that the endocytic machinery of EGFR might be basically impaired at the level of the early/late endosomes. Taken together, this is the first report demonstrating that the suppressive effect of gefitinib on the endocytosis of EGFR is much stronger with PC9 cells than QG56 cells. Thus, impairment in some steps of the EGF-EGFR traffic out of early endosomes toward the late endosomes/lysosomes might confer gefitinib-resistance in NSCLC cell lines.

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