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PLoS One. 2013 Oct 11;8(10):e76503. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076503. eCollection 2013.

Induction of autophagy is an early response to gefitinib and a potential therapeutic target in breast cancer.

Author information

1
Department of Experimental Therapeutics, British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Abstract

Gefitinib (Iressa(®), ZD1839) is a small molecule inhibitor of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase. We report on an early cellular response to gefitinib that involves induction of functional autophagic flux in phenotypically diverse breast cancer cells that were sensitive (BT474 and SKBR3) or insensitive (MCF7-GFPLC3 and JIMT-1) to gefitinib. Our data show that elevation of autophagy in gefitinib-treated breast cancer cells correlated with downregulation of AKT and ERK1/2 signaling early in the course of treatment. Inhibition of autophagosome formation by BECLIN-1 or ATG7 siRNA in combination with gefitinib reduced the abundance of autophagic organelles and sensitized SKBR3 but not MCF7-GFPLC3 cells to cell death. However, inhibition of the late stage of gefitinib-induced autophagy with hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) or bafilomycin A1 significantly increased (p<0.05) cell death in gefitinib-sensitive SKBR3 and BT474 cells, as well as in gefitinib-insensitive JIMT-1 and MCF7-GFPLC3 cells, relative to the effects observed with the respective single agents. Treatment with the combination of gefitinib and HCQ was more effective (p<0.05) in delaying tumor growth than either monotherapy (p>0.05), when compared to vehicle-treated controls. Our results also show that elevated autophagosome content following short-term treatment with gefitinib is a reversible response that ceases upon removal of the drug. In aggregate, these data demonstrate that elevated autophagic flux is an early response to gefitinib and that targeting EGFR and autophagy should be considered when developing new therapeutic strategies for EGFR expressing breast cancers.

PMID:
24146879
PMCID:
PMC3795739
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0076503
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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