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Gene expression patterns that predict sensitivity to epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors in lung cancer cell lines and human lung tumors

Justin M Balko1, Anil Potti2, Christopher Saunders3, Arnold Stromberg3, Eric B Haura4 and Esther P Black1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40536-0082, USA

2 Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA

3 Department of Statistics, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0027 USA

4 Thoracic Oncology program, The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, Tampa, FL 33612, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2006, 7:289  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-7-289

Published: 10 November 2006



Increased focus surrounds identifying patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who will benefit from treatment with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI). EGFR mutation, gene copy number, coexpression of ErbB proteins and ligands, and epithelial to mesenchymal transition markers all correlate with EGFR TKI sensitivity, and while prediction of sensitivity using any one of the markers does identify responders, individual markers do not encompass all potential responders due to high levels of inter-patient and inter-tumor variability. We hypothesized that a multivariate predictor of EGFR TKI sensitivity based on gene expression data would offer a clinically useful method of accounting for the increased variability inherent in predicting response to EGFR TKI and for elucidation of mechanisms of aberrant EGFR signalling. Furthermore, we anticipated that this methodology would result in improved predictions compared to single parameters alone both in vitro and in vivo.


Gene expression data derived from cell lines that demonstrate differential sensitivity to EGFR TKI, such as erlotinib, were used to generate models for a priori prediction of response. The gene expression signature of EGFR TKI sensitivity displays significant biological relevance in lung cancer biology in that pertinent signalling molecules and downstream effector molecules are present in the signature. Diagonal linear discriminant analysis using this gene signature was highly effective in classifying out-of-sample cancer cell lines by sensitivity to EGFR inhibition, and was more accurate than classifying by mutational status alone. Using the same predictor, we classified human lung adenocarcinomas and captured the majority of tumors with high levels of EGFR activation as well as those harbouring activating mutations in the kinase domain. We have demonstrated that predictive models of EGFR TKI sensitivity can classify both out-of-sample cell lines and lung adenocarcinomas.


These data suggest that multivariate predictors of response to EGFR TKI have potential for clinical use and likely provide a robust and accurate predictor of EGFR TKI sensitivity that is not achieved with single biomarkers or clinical characteristics in non-small cell lung cancers.