Mechanisms of resistance and sensitivity to anti-HER2 therapies in HER2+ breast cancer

Debora de Melo Gagliato _, Denis Leonardo Fontes Jardim, Mario Sergio Pereira Marchesi and Gabriel N. Hortobagyi

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:64431-64446. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.7043

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Debora de Melo Gagliato1, Denis Leonardo Fontes Jardim1, Mario Sergio Pereira Marchesi2 and Gabriel N. Hortobagyi3

1 Centro de Oncologia do Paraná, Curitiba SP, Brazil

2 Roche Pharmaceuticals, São Paulo SP, Brazil

3 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA

Correspondence to:

Debora de Melo Gagliato, email:

Keywords: breast cancer, HER2 disease, trastuzumab, anti-HER2 therapy, resistance to treatment

Received: September 08, 2015 Accepted: January 18, 2016 Published: January 27, 2016


Breast Cancer (BC) is a highly prevalent disease. A woman living in the United States has a 12.3% lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer [1]. It is the most common female cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death in women [2]. Of note, amplification or overexpression of Human Epidermal Receptor 2 (HER2) oncogene is present in approximately 18 to 20% of primary invasive breast cancers, and until personalized therapy became available for this specific BC subtype, the worst rates of Overall Survival (OS) and Recurrence-Free Survival (RFS) were observed in the HER2+ BC cohort, compared to all other types, including triple negative BC (TNBC) [3].

HER2 is a member of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) family. Other family members include EGFR or HER1, HER3 and HER4. HER2 can form heterodimers with any of the other three receptors, and is considered to be the preferred dimerization partner of the other HER or ErbB receptors [4]. Phosphorylation of tyrosine residues within the cytoplasmic domain is the result of receptor dimerization and culminates into initiation of a variety of signalling pathways involved in cellular proliferation, transcription, motility and apoptosis inhibition [5].

In addition to being an important prognostic factor in women diagnosed with BC, HER2 overexpression also identifies those patients who benefit from treatment with agents that target HER2, such as trastuzumab, pertuzumab, trastuzumab emtansine (T-DM1) and small molecules tyrosine kinase inhibitors of HER2 [6, 11, 127].In fact, trastuzumab altered the natural history of patients diagnosed with HER2+ BC, both in early and metastatic disease setting, in a major way [8-10]. Nevertheless, there are many women that will eventually develop metastatic disease, despite being treated with anti-HER2 therapy in the early disease setting. Moreover, advanced tumors may reach a point where no anti-HER2 treatment will achieve disease control, including recently approved drugs, such as T-DM1.

This review paper will concentrate on major biological pathways that ultimately lead to resistance to anti-HER2 therapies in BC, summarizing their mechanisms. Strategies to overcome this resistance, and the rationale involved in each tactics to revert this scenario will be presented to the reader.

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