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J Biol Chem. 2003 Jun 27;278(26):23343-51. Epub 2003 Apr 9.

Quantitative analysis of HER2-mediated effects on HER2 and epidermal growth factor receptor endocytosis: distribution of homo- and heterodimers depends on relative HER2 levels.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.


Endocytic trafficking plays an important role in the regulation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) family. Many cell types express multiple EGFR family members (including EGFR, HER2, HER3, and/or HER4) that interact to form an array of homo- and heterodimers. Differential trafficking of these receptors should strongly affect signaling through this system by changing substrate access and heterodimerization efficiency. Because of the complexity of these dynamic processes, we used a quantitative and computational model to understand their integrated operation. Parameters characterizing EGFR and HER2 interactions were determined using experimental data obtained from mammary epithelial cells constructed to express different levels of HER2, enabling us to estimate receptor-specific internalization rate constants and dimer uncoupling rate constants. Significant novel results obtained from this work are as follows: first, that EGFR homodimerization and EGFR/HER2 heterodimerization occur with comparable affinities; second, that EGFR/HER2 heterodimers traffic as single entities. Furthermore, model predictions of the relationship of HER2 expression levels to consequent distribution of EGFR homodimers and EGFR/HER2 heterodimers suggest that the levels of HER2 found on normal cells are barely at the threshold necessary to drive efficient heterodimerization. Thus, altering HER2 concentrations, either overall or local, could provide an effective mechanism for regulating EGFR/HER2 heterodimerization and may explain why HER2 overexpression found in some cancers has such a profound effect on cell physiology.

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