Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2018 03 23;115(11):E2594-E2603. Epub 2018 Feb 23.
Department of Oral and Craniofacial Molecular Biology, Philips Institute for Oral Health Research, VCU School of Dentistry and Massey Cancer Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23298;
() amplification is a driving oncogenic event in breast cancer. Clinical trials have consistently shown the benefit of HER2 inhibitors (HER2i) in treating patients with both local and advanced HER2+ breast cancer. Despite this benefit, their efficacy as single agents is limited, unlike the robust responses to other receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors like EGFR inhibitors in -mutant lung cancer. Interestingly, the lack of HER2i efficacy occurs despite sufficient intracellular signaling shutdown following HER2i treatment. Exploring possible intrinsic causes for this lack of response, we uncovered remarkably depressed levels of NOXA, an endogenous inhibitor of the antiapoptotic MCL-1, in -amplified breast cancer. Upon investigation of the mechanism leading to low NOXA, we identified a micro-RNA encoded in an intron of , termed , that targets the mRNA of the Estrogen Receptor α (). Reduced ESR1 expression in turn prevents ERα-mediated transcription of , mitigating apoptosis following treatment with the HER2i lapatinib. Importantly, resistance can be overcome with pharmacological inhibition of MCL-1. More generally, while many cancers like -mutant lung cancer are driven by activated kinases that when drugged lead to robust monotherapeutic responses, we demonstrate that the efficacy of targeted therapies directed against oncogenes active through focal amplification may be mitigated by coamplified genes.