Although neither kinase-dead human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER)3 nor orphan HER2 can be activated by HER-related ligands on their own, the formation of HER2/HER3 heterodimers creates the most mitogenic and transforming receptor complex within the HER (erbB) family of transmembrane receptor tyrosine kinases. The incorporation of markers such as HER3 transactivation, HER2/HER3 dimer, or others that may provide information regarding the level of HER pathway engagement has been demonstrated to allow identification of patients who respond to or escape HER-targeted therapies. Pioneering studies showed that high expression of kinase-dead HER3 can predict early escape from the anti-HER2 monoclonal antibody trastuzumab. Also, the growth-inhibitory effects of HER1/2 tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) were previously found to be attenuated in the presence of heregulin, which is a high-affinity combinatorial ligand for HER3. All of these concepts are being revisited with respect to the efficacy of HER family TKI therapies; in particular, HER3 signalling buffered against incomplete inhibition of HER2 kinase activity has been suggested to be the mechanism that allows HER2 over-expressing breast cancer cells to escape HER TKIs. It remains to be elucidated whether reactivation of HER3 signalling can also account for the poor efficacy of HER TKIs in treating breast carcinomas that contain low overall levels of HER2 receptors. However, it appears that regardless of the mechanism that triggers the formation of oncogenic HER2/HER3 heterodimers (HER2 over-expression or overall low HER2 but high levels of the HER3 ligand heregulin), HER3 transphosphorylation is a common response of breast cancer cells upon treatment with current inhibitors of the HER receptor tyrosine kinase network. Because kinase-inactive HER3 is not presently an amenable target for forthcoming HER TKIs, molecular approaches that can efficiently block heregulin-triggered HER3 transactivation or nucleocytoplasmic trafficking of heregulin might offer novel strategies with which to manage HER-driven breast cancer disease.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research