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Ann Oncol. 2001;12 Suppl 1:S3-8.

The basic biology of HER2.

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Department of Biological Regulation, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.


Human epidermal growth factor receptors (HER/erbB) constitute a family of four cell surface receptors involved in transmission of signals controlling normal cell growth and differentiation. A range of growth factors serve as ligands, but none is specific for the HER2 receptor. HER receptors exist as both monomers and dimers, either homo- or heterodimers. Ligand binding to HERI, HER3 or HER4 induces rapid receptor dimerization, with a marked preference for HER2 as a dimer partner. Moreover, HER2-containing heterodimers generate intracellular signals that are significantly stronger than signals emanating from other HER combinations. In normal cells, few HER2 molecules exist at the cell surface, so few heterodimers are formed and growth signals are relatively weak and controllable. When HER2 is overexpressed multiple HER2 heterodimers are formed and cell signaling is stronger, resulting in enhanced responsiveness to growth factors and malignant growth. This explains why HER2 overexpression is an indicator of poor prognosis in breast tumors and may be predictive of response to treatment. HER2 is a highly specific and promising target for new breast cancer treatments. The recombinant human anti-HER2 monoclonal antibody (rhuMAb-HER2, trastuzumab, Herceptin) induces rapid removal of HER2 from the cell surface, thereby reducing its availability to heterodimers and reducing oncogenicity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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