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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Co-expression of HER2 and HER3 receptor tyrosine kinases enhances invasion of breast cells via stimulation of interleukin-8 autocrine secretion

Nicola Aceto1, Stephan Duss1, Gwen MacDonald1, Dominique S Meyer12, Tim-C Roloff1, Nancy E Hynes1 and Mohamed Bentires-Alj1*

Author Affiliations

1 Mechanisms of Cancer Department, Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Maulbeerstrasse 66, Basel, CH-4058 Switzerland

2 Current address: Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California at San Francisco, 1450 3rd Street, San Francisco, California 94158, USA

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Breast Cancer Research 2012, 14:R131  doi:10.1186/bcr3329

Published: 12 October 2012

Abstract

Introduction

The tyrosine kinase receptors HER2 and HER3 play an important role in breast cancer. The HER2/HER3 heterodimer is a critical oncogenic unit associated with reduced relapse-free and decreased overall survival. While signaling cascades downstream of HER2 and HER3 have been studied extensively at the level of post-translational modification, little is known about the effects of HER2/HER3 overexpression and activation on gene expression in breast cancer. We have now defined the genetic landscape induced by activation of the HER2/HER3 unit in mammary cells, and have identified interleukin (IL)8 and CXCR1 as potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of HER2/HER3-overexpressing breast cancers.

Methods

Three-dimensional (3D) cultures, invasion and migration assays were used to determine the effects of HER2 and HER3 co-expression and activation. Gene expression analysis was performed to identify the gene network induced by HER2/HER3 in 3D cultures. Bioinformatic analysis and neutralizing antibodies were used to identify key mediators of HER2/HER3-evoked invasion.

Results

Co-expression of the tyrosine kinase receptors HER2 and HER3 induced migration and invasion of MCF10A cells. Microarray analysis of these cells revealed a specific "HER2/HER3 signature" comprising 80 upregulated transcripts, with IL8 being the highest (11-fold upregulation). Notably, examination of public datasets revealed high levels of IL8 transcripts in HER2-enriched as well as basal-like primary breast tumors, two subtypes characterized by a particularly poor prognosis. Moreover, IL8 expression correlated with high tumor grade and ER-negative status. Importantly, treatment with IL8-neutralizing antibodies prevented invasion of MCF10A-HER2/HER3 and BT474 cells in 3D cultures, highlighting the importance of IL8 autocrine signaling upon HER2/HER3 activation.

Conclusions

Our findings demonstrate that HER2 and HER3 co-expression induces IL8 autocrine signaling, leading to the invasion of mammary cells. Agents targeting IL8 or its receptor CXCR1 may be useful for the treatment of HER2/HER3/IL8-positive breast cancers with invasive traits.