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Cancer Lett. 2009 Oct 8;283(2):135-42. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2009.03.034. Epub 2009 Apr 19.

Epidermal growth factor competes with EGF receptor inhibitors to induce cell death in EGFR-overexpressing tumor cells.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Asan Medical Center, University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Seoul 138-736, Republic of Korea.


Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling plays an important role in cell growth and differentiation. Mutations in the EGFR gene and EGFR gene amplifications have been associated with increased responsiveness to selective EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (EGFR-TKIs). By contrast, EGF may also stimulate apoptosis in tumor cells, depending on EGFR and Her2 (erbB-2) expression levels. In the present study, we investigated cellular responses after EGFR activation by EGF, or inhibition by cetuximab and gefitinib. EGF treatment induced a near-immediate increase in p38 MAPK phosphorylation together with inactivation of ERK1/2. In contrast, gefitinib- and cetuximab-induced phosphorylation of p38 MAPK was much delayed, and gefitinib also induced a delayed activation of ERK1/2. EGF induced progressive cell death of A431 cells with prolonged treatment, whereas cetuximab- or gefitinib-treated cells showed temporary growth arrest and subsequent re-growth. Moreover, in combination treatment experiments, cetuximab or gefitinib competitively inhibited EGF-induced cell death. Normal WI38-VA13 cells did not display any noticeable changes in cell proliferation in response to EGF, gefitinib or cetuximab. EGF-induced death signaling is apparently irreversible: EGF induced significant EGFR phosphorylation/internalization and activated caspase-3, -8 and -9, effects that were not observed in cetuximab- or gefitinib-treated cells. Collectively, these results indicate that EGF may be a more potent cytotoxic agent than EGFR blockers in EGFR-overexpressing cancer cells.

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