Defective autophagy has been implicated in mammary tumorigenesis, as the gene encoding the essential autophagy regulator BECN1 is deleted in human breast cancers and Becn1+/- mice develop mammary hyperplasias. In agreement with a recent study, which reports concurrent allelic BECN1 loss and ERBB2 amplification in a small number of human breast tumors, we found that low BECN1 mRNA correlates with ERBB2-overexpression in breast cancers, suggesting that BECN1 loss and ERBB2 overexpression may functionally interact in mammary tumorigenesis. We now report that ERBB2 overexpression suppressed autophagic response to stress in mouse mammary and human breast cancer cells. ERBB2- overexpressing Becn1+/+ and Becn1+/- immortalized mouse mammary epithelial cells (iMMECs) formed mammary tumors in nude mice with similar kinetics, and monoallelic Becn1 loss did not alter ERBB2- and PyMT-driven mammary tumorigenesis. In human breast cancer databases, ERBB2-expressing tumors exhibit a low autophagy gene signature, independent of BECN1 mRNA expression, and have similar gene expression profiles with non-ERBB2-expressing breast tumors with low BECN1 levels. We also found that ERBB2-expressing BT474 breast cancer cells, despite being partially autophagy-deficient under stress, can be sensitized to the anti-ERBB2 antibody trastuzumab (tzb) by further pharmacological or genetic autophagy inhibition. Our results indicate that ERBB2-driven mammary tumorigenesis is associated with functional autophagy suppression and ERBB2-positive breast cancers are partially autophagy-deficient even in a wild-type BECN1 background. Furthermore and extending earlier findings using tzb-resistant cells, exogenously imposed autophagy inhibition increases the anticancer effect of trastuzumab on tzb-sensitive ERBB2-expressing breast tumor cells, indicating that pharmacological autophagy suppression has a wider role in the treatment of ERBB2-positive breast cancer.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology
- Breast cancer