Research Papers:

Autophagy-related gene 12 (ATG12) is a novel determinant of primary resistance to HER2-targeted therapies: Utility of transcriptome analysis of the autophagy interactome to guide breast cancer treatment

Sílvia Cufí, Alejandro Vazquez-Martin, Ceistina Oliveras-Ferraros, Bruna Corominas-Faja, Ander Urruticoechea, Begoña Martin-Castillo and Javier A Menendez _

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Oncotarget. 2012; 3:1600-1614. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.742

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Sílvia Cufí1,2,*, Alejandro Vazquez-Martin1,2,*, Cristina Oliveras-Ferraros1,2,*, Bruna Corominas-Faja1,2, Ander Urruticoechea3, Begoña Martin-Castillo2,4, Javier A. Menendez1,2

1 Metabolism and Cancer Group, Translational Research Laboratory, Catalan Institute of Oncology-Girona (ICO-Girona)

2 Molecular Oncology, Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBGi)

3 Department of Medical Oncology, Breast Unit, Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO)-Hospital Universitari de Bellvitge-Bellvitge Research Institute (IDIBELL)

4 Clinical Research Unit, Catalan Institute of Oncology-Girona (ICO-Girona)

* denotes equal contribution


Javier A. Menendez, email:

Keywords: Autophagy; ATG genes; HER2; trastuzumab; lapatinib

Received: November 07, 2012, Accepted: November 15, 2012, Published: November 17, 2012


The autophagic process, which can facilitate breast cancer resistance to endocrine, cytotoxic, and molecularly targeted agents, is mainly regulated at the post-translational level. Although recent studies have suggested a possible transcriptome regulation of the autophagic genes, little is known about either the analysis tools that can be applied or the functional importance of putative candidate genes emerging from autophagy-dedicated transcriptome studies. In this context, we evaluated whether the constitutive activation of the autophagy machinery, as revealed by a transcriptome analysis using an autophagy-focused polymerase chain reaction (PCR) array, might allow for the identification of novel autophagy-specific biomarkers for intrinsic (primary) resistance to HER2-targeted therapies. Quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR)-based profiling of 84 genes involved in autophagy revealed that, when compared to trastuzumab-sensitive SKBR3 cells, the positive regulator of autophagic vesicle formation ATG12 (autophagy-related gene 12) was the most differentially up-regulated gene in JIMT1 cells, a model of intrinsic cross-resistance to trastuzumab and other HER1/2-targeting drugs. An analysis of the transcriptional status of ATG12 in > 50 breast cancer cell lines suggested that the ATG12 transcript is commonly upregulated in trastuzumab-unresponsive HER2-overexpressing breast cancer cells. A lentiviral-delivered small hairpin RNA stable knockdown of the ATG12 gene fully suppressed the refractoriness of JIMT1 cells to trastuzumab, erlotinib, gefitinib, and lapatinib in vitro. ATG12 silencing significantly reduced JIMT1 tumor growth induced by subcutaneous injection in nude mice. Remarkably, the outgrowth of trastuzumab-unresponsive tumors was prevented completely when trastuzumab treatment was administered in an ATG12-silenced genetic background. We demonstrate for the first time the usefulness of low-density, autophagy-dedicated qRT-PCR-based platforms for monitoring primary resistance to HER2-targeted therapies by transcriptionally screening the autophagy interactome. The degree of predictive accuracy warrants further investigation in the clinical situation.

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