Breast cancer research : BCR

HER-2 overexpression differentially alters transforming growth factor-beta responses in luminal versus mesenchymal human breast cancer cells.

PMID 16457687


Amplification of the HER-2 receptor tyrosine kinase has been implicated in the pathogenesis and aggressive behavior of approximately 25% of invasive human breast cancers. Clinical and experimental evidence suggest that aberrant HER-2 signaling contributes to tumor initiation and disease progression. Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) is the dominant factor opposing growth stimulatory factors and early oncogene activation in many tissues, including the mammary gland. Thus, to better understand the mechanisms by which HER-2 overexpression promotes the early stages of breast cancer, we directly assayed the cellular and molecular effects of TGF-beta1 on breast cancer cells in the presence or absence of overexpressed HER-2. Cell proliferation assays were used to determine the effect of TGF-beta on the growth of breast cancer cells with normal or high level expression of HER-2. Affymetrix microarrays combined with Northern and western blot analysis were used to monitor the transcriptional responses to exogenous TGF-beta1 in luminal and mesenchymal-like breast cancer cells. The activity of the core TGF-beta signaling pathway was assessed using TGF-beta1 binding assays, phospho-specific Smad antibodies, immunofluorescent staining of Smad and Smad DNA binding assays. We demonstrate that cells engineered to over-express HER-2 are resistant to the anti-proliferative effect of TGF-beta1. HER-2 overexpression profoundly diminishes the transcriptional responses induced by TGF-beta in the luminal MCF-7 breast cancer cell line and prevents target gene induction by a novel mechanism that does not involve the abrogation of Smad nuclear accumulation, DNA binding or changes in c-myc repression. Conversely, HER-2 overexpression in the context of the mesenchymal MDA-MB-231 breast cell line potentiated the TGF-beta induced pro-invasive and pro-metastatic gene signature. HER-2 overexpression promotes the growth and malignancy of mammary epithelial cells, in part, by conferring resistance to the growth inhibitory effects of TGF-beta. In contrast, HER-2 and TGF-beta signaling pathways can cooperate to promote especially aggressive disease behavior in the context of a highly invasive breast tumor model.