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Breast Cancer Res. 2017 Aug 4;19(1):90. doi: 10.1186/s13058-017-0882-x.

Inhibition of basal-like breast cancer growth by FTY720 in combination with epidermal growth factor receptor kinase blockade.

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Kolling Institute, University of Sydney, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, NSW, 2065, Australia.
Present address: Westmead Hospital, Westmead, NSW, 2145, Australia.
Patricia Ritchie Centre for Cancer Care and Research, Mater Hospital, North Sydney, NSW, 2065, Australia.
Kolling Institute, University of Sydney, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, NSW, 2065, Australia.



New molecular targets are needed for women with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). This pre-clinical study investigated the combination of the EGFR inhibitor gefitinib with the sphingosine kinase (SphK) inhibitor FTY720 (Fingolimod), aiming to block tumorigenic signaling downstream of IGFBP-3, which is abundantly expressed in basal-like TNBC.


In studies of breast cancer cell growth in culture, proliferation was monitored by IncuCyte live-cell imaging, and protein abundance was determined by western blotting. In vivo studies of mammary tumor growth used two models: orthotopic xenograft tumors derived from three basal-like TNBC cell lines, grown in immune-deficient mice, and syngeneic murine 4T1 tumors grown in immune-competent mice. Protein abundance in tumor tissue was assessed by immunohistochemistry.


Quantitated by live-cell imaging, the inhibitor combination showed synergistic cytostatic activity in basal-like cell lines across several TNBC molecular subtypes, the synergy being decreased by IGFBP-3 downregulation. Suppression of the tumorigenic mediator CD44 by gefitinib was potentiated by FTY720, consistent with CD44 involvement in the targeted pathway. In MDA-MB-468 and HCC1806 orthotopic TNBC xenograft tumors in nude mice, the drug combination inhibited tumor growth and prolonged mouse survival, although this effect was not significant for the gefitinib-resistant cell line HCC70. Combination treatment of murine 4T1 TNBC tumors in syngeneic BALB/c mice was more effective in immune-competent than immune-deficient (nude) mice, and a relative loss of tumor CD3 (T-cell) immunoreactivity caused by FTY720 treatment alone was alleviated by the drug combination, suggesting that, even at an FTY720 dose causing relative lymphopenia, the combination is still effective in an immune-competent setting. Immunohistochemistry of xenograft tumors showed significant enhancement of caspase-3 cleavage and suppression of Ki67 and phospho-EGFR by the drug combination, but SphK1 downregulation occurred only in MDA-MB-468 tumors, so is unlikely to be integral to treatment efficacy.


Our data indicate that targeting IGFBP-3-dependent signaling pathways through gefitinib-FTY720 co-therapy may be effective in many basal-like breast cancers, and suggest tissue IGFBP-3 and CD44 measurement as potential biomarkers of treatment efficacy.


Basal-like breast cancer; FTY720; Gefitinib; IGFBP-3; Sphingosine kinase

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