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Clin Cancer Res. 2010 Jan 15;16(2):451-60. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-09-1617. Epub 2010 Jan 12.

ERBB2 induces an antiapoptotic expression pattern of Bcl-2 family members in node-negative breast cancer.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany.



Members of the Bcl-2 family act as master regulators of mitochondrial homeostasis and apoptosis. We analyzed whether ERBB2 influences the prognosis of breast cancer by influencing the proapoptotic versus antiapoptotic balance of Bcl-2 family members.


ERBB2-regulated Bcl-2 family members were identified by inducible expression of ERBB2 in MCF-7 breast cancer cells and by correlation analysis with ERBB2 expression in breast carcinomas. The prognostic relevance of ERBB2-regulated and all additional Bcl-2 family members was determined in 782 patients with untreated node-negative breast cancer. The biological relevance of ERBB2-induced inhibition of apoptosis was validated in a murine tumor model allowing conditional ERBB2 expression.


ERBB2 caused an antiapoptotic phenotype by upregulation of MCL-1, TEGT, BAG1, BNIP1, and BECN1 as well as downregulation of BAX, BMF, BNIPL, CLU, and BCL2L13. Upregulation of the antiapoptotic MCL-1 [P = 0.001, hazard ratio (HR) 1.5] and BNIP3 (P = 0.024; HR, 1.4) was associated with worse prognosis considering metastasis-free interval, whereas clusterin (P = 0.008; HR, 0.88) and the proapoptotic BCL2L13 (P = 0.019; HR, 0.45) were associated with better prognosis. This indicates that ERBB2 alters the expression of Bcl-2 family members in a way that leads to adverse prognosis. Analysis of apoptosis and tumor remission in a murine tumor model confirmed that the prototypic Bcl-2 family member Bcl-x(L) could partially substitute for ERBB2 to antagonize tumor remission.


Our results support the concept that ERBB2 influences the expression of Bcl-2 family members to induce an antiapoptotic phenotype. Antagonization of antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family members might improve breast cancer therapy, whereby MCL-1 and BNIP3 represent promising targets.

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