Resistance to small molecule inhibitors of epidermal growth factor receptor in malignant gliomas

Bin Li, Chi-Ming Chang, Min Yuan, W Gillies McKenna, Hui-Kuo G Shu
Cancer Research 2003 November 1, 63 (21): 7443-50
Epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor (EGFR) is commonly amplified and/or mutated in high-grade gliomas. Abnormal signaling from this receptor tyrosine kinase is believed to contribute to the malignant phenotypes seen in these tumors. Highly specific small molecule inhibitors of this receptor tyrosine kinase have been developed and may potentially improve the treatment of these highly aggressive brain tumors. A glioma cell line overexpressing EGFR was developed to mimic the situation of a malignant glioma with amplified EGFR, and this line was used to characterize the response to specific EGFR inhibitors. Treatment of our in vitro glioma model with the EGFR kinase inhibitors ZD1839 (Iressa) or PD153035, synthetic anilinoquinazolines with high specificity for EGFR, resulted in significant suppression of EGFR autophosphorylation even with very low levels of drug. However, significantly higher levels of drug were required to fully inhibit signaling through the phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase/AKT and mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathways. Interestingly, not all downstream signaling pathways displayed this resistance to inhibition. EGF-dependent activation of signal transducers and activators of transcription-3 occurred at low doses of EGFR inhibitors. The uncoupling of EGFR autophosphorylation and signaling through AKT and ERK was not dependent on EGFR overexpression. In addition, although this response was seen in other glioma and the SK-BR3 breast cancer cell lines, it was not universally present. The SQ20B head and neck squamous carcinoma cell line demonstrated loss of EGF-dependent AKT and ERK activation even at low doses of inhibitor. Despite significant loss of EGF-dependent autophosphorylation, the inability of low levels of EGFR inhibitor to suppress some downstream signaling pathways in our model glioma cell line permitted continued EGF-responsive decreases in the expression of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p27KIP and EGF-dependent proliferation/cell cycle progression. Although the mechanism responsible for the differential sensitivity of the various signal transduction pathways to EGFR inhibitors remains unclear, signaling through erbB2 does not appear to be involved. The ability of certain tumor cells to maintain signaling through AKT and ERK under EGFR inhibition may represent a potential mechanism of resistance by which a tumor cell may escape the antiproliferative activity of this new class of drugs.

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