Lapatinib, a dual EGFR/HER2 kinase inhibitor, is approved for use in patients with trastuzumab-refractory HER2- overexpressing breast cancer. Increased PI3K signaling has been associated with resistance to trastuzumab, although its role in lapatinib resistance remains unclear. The purpose of the current study was to determine if PI3K/mTOR activity affects lapatinib sensitivity. Reduced sensitivity to lapatinib was associated with an inability of lapatinib to inhibit Akt and p70S6K phosphorylation. Transfection of constitutively active Akt reduced lapatinib sensitivity, while kinase-dead Akt increased sensitivity. Knockdown of 4EBP1 also increased lapatinib sensitivity, in contrast to p70S6K knockdown, which did not affect response to lapatinib. Pharmacologic inhibition of mTOR using rapamycin or ridaforolimus increased lapatinib sensitivity and reduced phospho-Akt levels in cells that showed poor response to single-agent lapatinib, including those transfected with hyperactive Akt. Finally, combination mTOR inhibition plus lapatinib resulted in synergistic inhibition of proliferation, reduced anchorage-independent growth, and reduced in vivo tumor growth of HER2- overexpressing breast cancer cells that have primary trastuzumab resistance. Our data suggest that PI3K/mTOR inhibition is critical for achieving optimal response to lapatinib. Collectively, these experiments support evaluation of lapatinib in combination with pharmacologic mTOR inhibition as a potential strategy for inhibiting growth of HER2-overexpressing breast cancers that show resistance to trastuzumab and poor response to lapatinib.
Keywords: Akt, Breast cancer, Drug resistance, erbB2, HER2, Herceptin, Lapatinib, Rapamycin, rastuzumab
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