Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) have shown strong activity against non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients harboring activating epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations. However, a fraction of EGFR wild-type (WT) patients may have an improvement in terms of response rate and progression-free survival when treated with erlotinib, suggesting that factors other than EGFR mutation may lead to TKI sensitivity. However, at present, no sufficiently robust clinical or biological parameters have been defined to identify WT-EGFR patients with greater chances of response. Therapeutics validation has necessarily to focus on lung cancer stem cells (LCSCs) as they are more difficult to eradicate and represent the tumor-maintaining cell population. Here, we investigated erlotinib response of lung CSCs with WT-EGFR and identified EGFR phosphorylation at tyrosine1068 (EGFRtyr1068) as a powerful biomarker associated with erlotinib sensitivity both in vitro and in preclinical CSC-generated xenografts. In contrast to the preferential cytotoxicity of chemotherapy against the more differentiated cells, in EGFRtyr1068 cells, erlotinib was even more active against the LCSCs compared with their differentiated counterpart, acquiring potential value as CSC-directed therapeutics in the context of WT-EGFR lung cancer. Although tumor growth was inhibited to a similar extent during erlotinib or chemotherapy administration to responsive tumors, erlotinib proved superior to chemotherapy in terms of higher tolerability and reduced tumor aggressiveness after treatment suspension, substantiating the possibility of preferential LCSC targeting, both in adenocarcinoma (ADC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) tumors. We conclude that EGFRtyr1068 may represent a potential candidate biomarker predicting erlotinib response at CSC-level in EGFR-WT lung cancer patients. Finally, besides its invariable association with erlotinib sensitivity in EGFR-WT lung CSCs, EGFRtyr1068 was associated with EGFR-sensitizing mutations in cell lines and patient tumors, with relevant diagnostic, clinical and therapeutic implications.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology
- Cancer Research
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience