TGFα expression impairs Trastuzumab-induced HER2 downregulation

Giorgio Valabrega, Filippo Montemurro, Ivana Sarotto, Annalisa Petrelli, Patrizia Rubini, Carlo Tacchetti, Massimo Aglietta, Paolo Maria Comoglio, Silvia Giordano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The HER2 gene encodes a tyrosine kinase receptor overexpressed in 25-30% of human breast cancers. Clinical trials have shown the efficacy of the anti-HER2 monoclonal antibody Trastuzumab in metastatic breast cancer patients. Nevertheless, 70% of patients are unresponsive from start of treatment and nearly all become unresponsive during treatment. Possible mechanisms for these failures could depend on impairment of the machinery responsible for receptor downregulation. To test this hypothesis, we analysed the genomic sequences encoding regions known to be critical for HER2 downregulation, of both HER2 and of the ubiquitin ligase Cbl. We investigated 63 breast cancers, and found no mutations in these regions. We thus considered alternative mechanisms - such as TGFα production - possibly interfering with HER2 downregulation. In selected cases, by comparing breast cancer neoplastic tissue before and after Trastuzumab treatment, we found induction of TGFα expression. Moreover, by in vitro expression of exogenous TGFα in breast cancer cells, we observed a dramatic reduction in Trastuzumab-induced HER2 endocytosis, downregulation and cell growth inhibition. Our results suggest that unresponsiveness to Trastuzumab may not be due to intrinsic defects in the machinery responsible for HER2 downregulation, but can be associated with a TGFα-related mechanism of escape to HER2 downregulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3002-3010
Number of pages9
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Apr 21 2005


  • Cbl ubiquitin ligase
  • HER2
  • Receptor degradation
  • TGFα

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research
  • Genetics


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