A novel toll-like receptor 9 agonist cooperates with trastuzumab in trastuzumab-resistant breast tumors through multiple mechanisms of action

Vincenzo Damiano, Sonia Garofalo, Roberta Rosa, Roberto Bianco, Rosa Caputo, Teresa Gelardi, Gerardina Merola, Luigi Racioppi, Corrado Garbi, Ekambar R Kandimalla, Sudhir Agrawal, Giampaolo Tortora
Clinical Cancer Research 2009 November 15, 15 (22): 6921-30

PURPOSE: Resistance to anti-HER2 monoclonal antibody trastuzumab is a relevant issue in breast cancer patients. Among the mechanisms implicated in trastuzumab resistance, increasing evidence supports a role of tumor microenvironment. We previously found that a novel toll-like receptor 9 agonist, referred to as immune modulatory oligonucleotide (IMO) and currently under clinical investigation, acts through epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and shows direct antiangiogenic effects by cooperating with anti-EGFR or anti-VEGF drugs, thus interfering with cancer cells and microenvironment.

EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: In this study, we used KPL-4 and JIMT-1 trastuzumab-resistant breast cancer cells to evaluate the combination IMO plus trastuzumab as a therapeutic option for trastuzumab-resistant breast cancers.

RESULTS: IMO inhibits KPL-4 and JIMT-1 xenografts growth and potentiates trastuzumab antitumor effect, with complete suppression of tumor growth, potent enhancement of trastuzumab-mediated antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity, and strong inhibition of EGFR/HER2-related signaling. In KPL-4 xenografts, IMO alone interferes with HER signal transduction, whereas trastuzumab is ineffective. IMO induces an HER-dependent signal inhibition also in vitro by modulating a functional interaction between toll-like receptor 9 and HER receptors occurring at membrane level. Finally, IMO plus trastuzumab produces a cooperative antiangiogenic effect related to suppression of endothelial HER-related signaling.

CONCLUSIONS: We showed a cooperative effect of IMO plus trastuzumab in trastuzumab-resistant breast cancers due to IMO direct antitumor and antiangiogenic activity and antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity enhancement. Moreover, we provided first evidence of a toll-like receptor 9/HER interaction at membrane level as novel mechanism of action. Altogether, we propose IMO plus trastuzumab as an effective strategy in trastuzumab-resistant breast cancers.

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