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Analysis of the anti-tumor effect of cetuximab using protein kinetics and mouse xenograft models

Teppei Matsuo, Satoshi S Nishizuka*, Kazushige Ishida, Takeshi Iwaya, Miyuki Ikeda and Go Wakabayashi

Author Affiliations

Molecular Therapeutics Laboratory, Department of Surgery, Iwate Medical University School of Medicine, 19-1 Uchimaru, Morioka 020-8505, Iwate Japan

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:140  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-140

Published: 10 May 2011

Abstract

Background

The binding of EGFR and its ligands leads to autophosphorylation of receptor tyrosine kinase as well as subsequent activation of signal transduction pathways that are involved in regulating cellular proliferation, differentiation, and survival. An EGFR inhibitor, cetuximab binds to EGFR and consequently blocks a variety of cellular processes. KRAS/BRAF mutations are known to be associated with a low response rate to cetuximab. In the present study, to clarify the anti-tumor mechanisms of cetuximab, we evaluated the KRAS/BRAF status, phosphorylation level of the EGFR pathway, and the tumor suppression effect in vivo, using a human colon cancer cell line HT29, which exhibited the highest EGFR expression in response to the cetuximab therapy among the 6 colorectal cancer cell lines tested.

Findings

The conventional growth suppression assay did not work efficiently with cetuximab. EGF, TGF-α, and IGF activated the EGFR/MAPK cell signaling pathway by initiating the phosphorylation of EGFR. Cetuximab partially inhibited the EGFR/MAPK pathway induced by EGF, TGF-α, and IGF. However, cetuximab exposure induced the EGFR, MEK, and ERK1/2 phosphorylation by itself. Mouse xenograft tumor growth was significantly inhibited by cetuximab and both cetuximab-treated and -untreated xenograft specimens exhibited phosphorylations of the EGFR pathway proteins.

Conclusions

We have confirmed that cetuximab inhibited the EGFR/MAPK pathway and reduced tumor growth in the xenografts while the remaining tumor showed EGFR pathway activation. These results suggest that: ( i ) The effect of cetuximab in growth signaling is not sufficient to induce complete growth suppression in vitro; ( ii ) time-course monitoring may be necessary to evaluate the effect of cetuximab because EGFR signaling is transmitted in a minute order; and ( iii ) cetuximab treatment may have cells acquired resistant selectively survived in the heterogeneous cancer population.