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Cancer Res. 2008 Jul 15;68(14):5878-87. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-08-0380.

A central role for HER3 in HER2-amplified breast cancer: implications for targeted therapy.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Genentech, Inc., South San Francisco, CA 94080, USA.


Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and HER3 each form heterodimers with HER2 and have independently been implicated as key coreceptors that drive HER2-amplified breast cancer. Some studies suggest a dominant role for EGFR, a notion of renewed interest given the development of dual HER2/EGFR small-molecule inhibitors. Other studies point to HER3 as the primary coreceptor. To clarify the relative contributions of EGFR and HER3 to HER2 signaling, we studied receptor knockdown via small interfering RNA technology across a panel of six HER2-overexpressing cell lines. Interestingly, HER3 was as critical as HER2 for maintaining cell proliferation in most cell lines, whereas EGFR was dispensable. Induction of HER3 knockdown in the HER2-overexpressing BT474M1 cell line was found to inhibit growth in three-dimensional culture and induce rapid tumor regression of in vivo xenografts. Furthermore, preferential phosphorylation of HER3, but not EGFR, was observed in HER2-amplified breast cancer tissues. Given these data suggesting HER3 as an important therapeutic target, we examined the activity of pertuzumab, a HER2 antibody that inhibits HER3 signaling by blocking ligand-induced HER2/HER3 heterodimerization. Pertuzumab inhibited ligand-dependent morphogenesis in three-dimensional culture and induced tumor regression in the heregulin-dependent MDA-MB-175 xenograft model. Importantly, these activities of pertuzumab were distinct from those of trastuzumab, a monoclonal antibody currently used for treatment of HER2-amplified breast cancer patients. Our data suggest that inhibition of HER3 may be more clinically relevant than inhibition of EGFR in HER2-amplified breast cancer and also suggest that adding pertuzumab to trastuzumab may augment therapeutic benefit by blocking HER2/HER3 signaling.

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