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Cancer Res. 2007 May 1;67(9):4164-72.

Modeling breast cancer-associated c-Src and EGFR overexpression in human MECs: c-Src and EGFR cooperatively promote aberrant three-dimensional acinar structure and invasive behavior.

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  • 1Division of Molecular Oncology, Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Research Institute, Evanston, IL 60201, USA.


Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a member of the ErbB family of receptor tyrosine kinases, is overexpressed in as many as 60% cases of breast and other cancers. EGFR overexpression is a characteristic of highly aggressive molecular subtypes of breast cancer with basal-like and BRCA1 mutant phenotypes distinct from ErbB2-overexpressing breast cancers. Yet, EGFR is substantially weaker compared with ErbB2 in promoting the oncogenic transformation of nontumorigenic human mammary epithelial cells (human MEC), suggesting a role for cooperating oncogenes. Here, we have modeled the co-overexpression of EGFR and a biologically and clinically relevant potential modifier c-Src in two distinct immortal but nontumorigenic human MECs. Using a combination of morphologic analysis and confocal imaging of polarity markers in three-dimensional Matrigel culture together with functional analyses of early oncogenic traits, we show for the first time that EGFR and c-Src co-overexpression but not EGFR or c-Src overexpression alone unleashes an oncogenic signaling program that leads to hyperproliferation and loss of polarity in three-dimensional acinar cultures, marked enhancement of migratory and invasive behavior, and anchorage-independent growth. Our results establish that EGFR overexpression in an appropriate context (modeled here using c-Src overexpression) can initiate oncogenic transformation of nontumorigenic human MECs and provide a suitable in vitro model to interrogate human breast cancer-relevant oncogenic signaling pathways initiated by overexpressed EGFR and to identify modifiers of EGFR-mediated breast oncogenesis.

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