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Clin Cancer Res. 2004 Feb 15;10(4):1409-20.

Synergistic interactions between tamoxifen and trastuzumab (Herceptin).

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Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510, USA.



HER-2/neu and estrogen receptor (ER) are critical in the biology of breast carcinoma, and both are validated therapeutic targets. Extensive interactions between the signaling pathways of these receptors have been demonstrated. This suggests that targeting both receptors simultaneously may have a dramatic effect on the biology of breast cancer. This hypothesis was tested in cell culture experiments.


ER-positive, HER-2/neu-overexpressing BT-474 human breast carcinoma cells were cultured in the presence of the anti-HER-2/neu therapeutic antibody trastuzumab (Herceptin), the antiestrogen tamoxifen, or both. The effects on cell growth, cell cycle distribution, clonogenicity, survival, and the level and activity of HER-2/neu were examined.


The combination of tamoxifen and Herceptin resulted in synergistic growth inhibition and enhancement of cell accumulation in the G(0)-G(1) phase of the cell cycle, with a decrease in cells in S phase. Clonogenicity was inhibited in the presence of each drug and more so by the combination, although prior exposure to drugs did not affect subsequent clonogenicity in drug-free media, and neither drug nor the combination induced apoptosis. Herceptin, but not tamoxifen, inhibited signaling by HER-2/neu.


The combination of tamoxifen and Herceptin is formally demonstrated to result in synergistic growth inhibition and enhancement of G(0)-G(1) cell cycle accumulation. In vitro, the individual drugs or combination produces a cytostatic effect. These results suggest that combined inhibition of ER and HER-2/neu signaling may represent a powerful approach to the treatment of breast cancer.

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