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Lung Cancer. 2012 Jul;77(1):183-91. doi: 10.1016/j.lungcan.2012.03.003. Epub 2012 Apr 7.

The gefitinib long-term responder (LTR)--a cancer stem-like cell story? Insights from molecular analyses of German long-term responders treated in the IRESSA expanded access program (EAP).

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Department of Thoracic Oncology, Thoraxklinik/University of Heidelberg, Amalienstr 5, 69126 Heidelberg, Germany.



In selected patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) the EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) gefitinib (IRESSA) shows response rates of ≥ 70% and a significant prolongation of progression free survival (PFS). However, cogent biomarkers predicting long-term response to EGFR-TKIs are yet lacking. Cancer stem-like cells (CSC) are thought to play a pivotal role in tumor regeneration and appear to be influenced by the EGFR-pathway. This makes them a promising candidate for predicting long-term response to EGFR-TKIs.


We analyzed pre-therapeutic tissue specimens of a rare and specific subset of previously treated German patients with advanced NSCLC who experienced ≥ 3 year response to gefitinib within the International IRESSA EAP. 11/20 identified long-term responders (LTRs) had appropriate tissue specimens available. Those were analyzed for EGFR and k-ras (Kirsten rat sarcoma) mutations, EGFR and c-met (met proto-oncogene) amplifications and protein expression of EGFR, E-cadherin/vimentin and the CSC antigens CD133 and BCRP1 (breast cancer resistance protein 1). The results were compared to primary resistant patients (RPs) and intermediate responders (IRs) showing a median response of 8.6 months.


Each group consisted of 6 women and 5 men, with 1 squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and 10 adenocarcinoma (AC). Along the LTRs, all but the SCC had EGFR mutations, whereas the RPs had no EGFR, but k-ras mutations in 5/11 cases. 8/11 IRs had EGFR and 3/11 k-ras mutations, of which 2 occurred concomitantly. One patient of each group had an EGFR and/or c-met amplification. EGFR and E-cadherin/vimentin expression was not different between the groups, whereas CD133 was expressed only in 4/10 LTRs and BCRP1 predominantly in responders. The LTRs showed a substantially longer mean PFS to previous therapies, a substantially lower number of metastatic sites and almost exclusively pulmonary or pleural metastasis.


LTRs display established properties of EGFR-TKI responders. Antigens characterizing CSC might identify a fraction of LTRs and matter of interest for further evaluation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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