Inhibition of proliferation and induction of apoptosis in breast cancer cells by the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitor ZD1839 ('Iressa') is independent of EGFR expression level

Manuela Campiglio, Alberta Locatelli, Clelia Olgiati, Nicola Normanno, Giulia Somenzi, Lucia Viganò, Marzia Fumagalli, Sylvie Ménard, Luca Gianni
Journal of Cellular Physiology 2004, 198 (2): 259-68
High expression of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in breast carcinoma confers a growth advantage to the tumor cells. The EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor (EGFR-TKI) ZD1839 ('Iressa') has clinical activity in a wide range of tumor types, although the mechanism(s) by which it exerts its antitumor activity effects remain unclear. We analyzed the ability of ZD1839 to induce apoptosis and/or inhibition of proliferation in breast carcinoma cell lines, as well any association between this ability and the downregulation activity of MAPK and Akt, two recently proposed markers of ZD1839 activity. Proliferation, survival, and activation of Akt and MAPK were evaluated in six human breast cancer cell lines expressing various levels of EGFR and HER2 and exposed to ZD1839. EGFR and HER2 expression levels were determined using specific monoclonal antibodies and FACS analysis. The effects of ZD1839 were independent of EGFR expression levels, but were influenced by high HER2 expression. ZD1839 significantly reduced the rate of [3H]-thymidine incorporation in the four sensitive cell lines, while apoptosis was also induced in two of these cell lines. No correlation was found between the cytostatic or cytotoxic effects of ZD1839 and its ability to downregulate MAPK and Akt activity in the tumor cell lines. Our data suggest that the antitumor activity of ZD1839 is due to a cytostatic effect, and involves apoptosis induction in a subset of sensitive cells only, and that neither MAPK nor Akt is a reliable marker of ZD1839 activity.

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