Cancer letters

Landscape of EGFR signaling network in human cancers: biology and therapeutic response in relation to receptor subcellular locations.

PMID 22261334


The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) pathway is one of the most dysregulated molecular pathways in human cancers. Despite its well-established importance in tumor growth, progression and drug-resistant phenotype over the past several decades, targeted therapy designed to circumvent EGFR has yielded only modest clinical success in cancer patients, except those with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) carrying EGFR activation mutations. However, almost all of these NSCLC patients eventually developed resistance to small molecule EGFR kinase inhibitors. These disappointing outcomes are, in part, due to the high complexity and the interactive nature of the EGFR signaling network. More recent compelling evidence further indicates that EGFR functionality can be dependent on its subcellular location. In this regard, EGFR undergoes translocation into different organelles where it elicits distinctly different functions than its best known activity as a plasma membrane-bound receptor tyrosine kinase. EGFR can be shuttled into the cell nucleus and mitochondrion upon ligand binding, radiation, EGFR-targeted therapy and other stimuli. Nuclear EGFR behaves as transcriptional regulator, tyrosine kinase, and mediator of other physiological processes. The role of mitochondrial EGFR remains poorly understood but it appears to regulate apoptosis and autophagy. While studies using patient tumors have shown nuclear EGFR to be an indicator for poor clinical outcomes in cancer patients, the impact of mitochondrial EGFR on tumor behavior and patient prognosis remains to be defined. Most recently, several lines of evidence suggest that mislocated EGFR may regulate tumor response to therapy and that plasma membrane-bound EGFR elicits survival signals independent of its kinase activity. In light of these recent progresses and discoveries, we will outline in this minireview an emerging line of research that uncovers and functionally characterizes several novel modes of EGFR signaling that take center stage in the cell nucleus, mitochondrion and other subcellular compartments. We will also discuss the clinical implications of these findings in the rationale design for therapeutic strategy that overcomes tumor drug resistance.