Targeting the MUC1-C oncoprotein downregulates HER2 activation and abrogates trastuzumab resistance in breast cancer cells

D Raina, Y Uchida, A Kharbanda, H Rajabi, G Panchamoorthy, C Jin, S Kharbanda, M Scaltriti, J Baselga, D Kufe
Oncogene 2014 June 26, 33 (26): 3422-31
Patients with HER2-positive breast cancer often exhibit intrinsic or acquired resistance to trastuzumab treatment. The transmembrane mucin 1 (MUC1) oncoprotein is aberrantly overexpressed in breast cancer cells and associates with HER2. The present studies demonstrate that silencing MUC1 C-terminal subunit (MUC1-C) in HER2-overexpressing SKBR3 and BT474 breast cancer cells results in the downregulation of constitutive HER2 activation. Moreover, treatment with the MUC1-C inhibitor, GO-203, was associated with disruption of MUC1-C/HER2 complexes and decreases in tyrosine-phosphorylated HER2 (p-HER2) levels. In studies of trastuzumab-resistant SKBR3R and BT474R cells, we found that the association between MUC1-C and HER2 is markedly increased (∼20-fold) as compared with that in sensitive cells. In addition, silencing MUC1-C in the trastuzumab-resistant cells or treatment with GO-203 decreased p-HER2 and AKT activation. Moreover, targeting MUC1-C was associated with the downregulation of phospho-p27 and cyclin E, which confer trastuzumab resistance. Consistent with these results, targeting MUC1-C inhibited the growth and clonogenic survival of both trastuzumab-resistant cells. Our results further demonstrate that silencing MUC1-C reverses resistance to trastuzumab and that the combination of GO-203 and trastuzumab is highly synergistic. These findings indicate that MUC1-C contributes to constitutive activation of the HER2 pathway and that targeting MUC1-C represents a potential approach to abrogate trastuzumab resistance.

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