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Clin Cancer Res. 2006 Dec 15;12(24):7222-31.

Epidermal growth factor receptor activation: how exon 19 and 21 mutations changed our understanding of the pathway.

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  • 1Catalan Institute of Oncology, Hospital Germans Trias i Pujol, Badalona, Spain.


The discovery of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations in never-smokers has been the most relevant finding ever in non-small cell lung cancer. When patients whose tumors bear the sensitizing mutations are treated with the tyrosine kinase inhibitors gefitinib or erlotinib, we witness response rates and durations never before reported, including complete responses. At the same time, the presence of EGFR mutations has raised numerous new questions, tantalizing data, and new challenges for treatment. This is particularly true as we try to generalize the findings in lung cancer to other malignancies. The indiscriminate use of gefitinib or erlotinib in the general lung cancer population results in meager survival benefit for patients. Similarly, the tyrosine kinase inhibitors have limited activity in a variety of tumor types with EGFR overexpression. This has led to the question of whether EGFR remains a viable target in patients other than those whose tumors contain mutations, and whether the modest activity of cetuximab in colorectal cancer and head and neck cancer represents all that we can expect from inhibition of this pathway in the absence of mutation. Mechanisms of pathway activation other than mutation have been discovered in recent years, and include overexpression mediated by gene amplification or by amplification of a dinucleotide repeat in the EGFR promoter, mutation of an extracellular region on EGFR generating a mutant protein termed EGFRvIII, and enhanced signaling due to heterodimerization with other members of the EGFR family, particularly overexpression of HER2/HER3. The extent to which these paths to EGFR activation will confer sensitivity to the tyrosine kinase inhibitors or to EGFR monoclonal antibodies is being explored. Thus far, published clinical data suggest that there is little room for the administration of gefitinib or erlotinib in the absence of EGFR mutations. The five articles in this edition of CCR Focus will address the various mechanisms of EGFR pathway activation and provide insight into the potential for translation into clinical relevance.

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