MH Flågeng, A Larionov, J Geisler, S Knappskog, WS Prestvik, G Bjørkøy, PK Lilleng, JM Dixon, WR Miller, PE Lønning, G Mellgren
J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol
While estrogens have been shown to modulate EGFR/HER-1 and HER-2/neu expression in experimental systems, the effects of estrogen deprivation on expression levels of the HER-receptors and the neuregulin (NRG)1 ligand in breast cancers remain unknown. Here, we measured EGFR/HER-1-4 and NRG1 mRNA in ER positive tumors from 85 postmenopausal breast cancer patients before and after two weeks (n=64) and three months (n=85) of primary treatment with an aromatase inhibitor (AI). In tumors lacking HER-2/neu amplification, quantitative real-time PCR analyses revealed EGFR/HER-1 and NRG1 to vary significantly between the three time points (before therapy, after 2 weeks and after 3 months on treatment; P≤0.001 for both). Pair-wise comparison revealed a significant increase in EGFR/HER-1 already during the first two weeks of treatment (P=0.049) with a further increase for both EGFR/HER-1 and NRG1 after 3 months on treatment (P≤0.001 and P=0.001 for both comparing values at 3 months to values at baseline and 2 weeks respectively). No difference between tumors responding versus non-responders was recorded. Further, no significant change in any parameter was observed among HER-2/neu amplified tumors. Analyzing components of the HER-2/neu PI3K/Akt downstream pathway, the PIK3CA H1047R mutation was associated with treatment response (P=0.035); however no association between either AKT phosphorylation status or PIK3CA gene mutations and EGFR/HER-1 or NRG1 expression levels were observed. Our results indicate primary AI treatment to modulate expression of HER-family members and the growth factor NRG1 in HER-2/neu non-amplified breast cancers in vivo. Potential implications to long term sensitivity warrants further investigations.