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Cancer Res. 2008 Mar 1;68(5):1538-45. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-07-5935.

Co-targeting insulin-like growth factor I receptor and HER2: dramatic effects of HER2 inhibitors on nonoverexpressing breast cancer.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Yale Cancer Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


The insulin-like growth factor I receptor (IGFIR) and HER2 display important signaling interactions in breast cancer. We examined the effect of combinations of antagonists of these receptors using two human breast cancer cell lines: BT474 (HER2+, IGFIR low) and MCF7 (HER2 low, IGFIR high). In BT474 cells, growth was inhibited by HER2 antagonists but not by IGFIR antagonists; however, IGFIR antagonists enhanced the effect of HER2 inhibitors. In MCF7 cells, growth was inhibited by IGFIR antagonists but not by HER2 antagonists; however, HER2 antagonism enhanced the effect of IGFIR inhibitors. Synergistic inhibition of soft agar growth was also observed. Although HER2 and IGFIR antagonists individually only minimally affected cell cycle, their combination gave a small enhancement of their effects. No single receptor-targeting drug was capable of inducing apoptosis, but combining antagonists of both receptors induced a dramatic degree of apoptosis in both cell lines. Induction of apoptosis was most striking in MCF7 cells using a Herceptin/IGFIR antagonist combination despite these cells being HER2 nonoverexpressing. Toward understanding the mechanism of these effects, we detected coassociation IGFIR and HER2 in both cell lines. Specific inhibitors of one of these receptors could cross-inhibit the activity of the other. Targeting both receptors gave the maximal inhibition of their downstream extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 and AKT signaling pathways. Hence, such drug combinations may be clinically useful and may be beneficial even in tumors in which single drugs are inactive, as exemplified by the effect of the HER2/IGFIR inhibitor combination in HER2 nonoverexpressing MCF7 cells.

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