Currently, only patients with HER2-positive tumors are candidates for HER2-targeted therapies. However, recent clinical observations suggest that the survival of patients with HER2-low breast cancers, who lack HER2 amplification, may benefit from adjuvant therapy that targets HER2. In this study, we explored a mechanism through which these benefits may be obtained. Prompted by the hypothesis that HER2/HER3 signaling in breast tumor-initiating cells (TIC) promotes self-renewal and survival, we obtained evidence that neuregulin 1 (NRG1) produced by TICs promotes their proliferation and self-renewal in HER2-low tumors, including in triple-negative breast tumors. Pharmacologic inhibition of EGFR, HER2, or both receptors reduced breast TIC survival and self-renewal in vitro and in vivo and increased TIC sensitivity to ionizing radiation. Through a tissue microarray analysis, we found that NRG1 expression and associated HER2 activation occurred in a subset of HER2-low breast cancers. Our results offer an explanation for why HER2 inhibition blocks the growth of HER2-low breast tumors. Moreover, they argue that dual inhibition of EGFR and HER2 may offer a useful therapeutic strategy to target TICs in these tumors. In generating a mechanistic rationale to apply HER2-targeting therapies in patients with HER2-low tumors, this work shows why these therapies could benefit a considerably larger number of patients with breast cancer than they currently reach.
View details for DOI 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-13-1055
View details for Web of Science ID 000329297600033
View details for PubMedID 24177178