Epidermal growth factor receptor vIII enhances tumorigenicity in human breast cancer

Careen K. Tang, Xiao Qi Gong, David K. Moscatello, Albert J. Wong, Marc E. Lippman

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130 Scopus citations


Epidermal growth factor receptor vIII (EGFRvIII) is a tumor-specific, ligand-independent, constitutively active variant of the EGFR. Its expression has been detected in gliomas and various other human malignancies. To more fully characterize the function and potential biological role of EGFRvIII in regulating cell proliferation and in tumorigenesis, we transfected EGFRvIII cDNA into a nontumorigenic, interleukin 3 (IL-3)-dependent murine hematopoietic cell line (32D cells). We observed 32D cells expressing high levels of EGFRvIII (32D/EGFRvIII P5) to be capable of abrogating the IL-3- dependent pathway in the absence of ligands. In contrast, the parental cells, 32D/EGFR, 32D/ErbB-4, and 32D/ErbB-2+ErbB-3 cells, all depended on IL-3 or EGF-like ligands for growth. 32D/EGFRvIII P5 cells subjected to long-term culture conditions in the absence of IL-3 revealed further elevation of EGFRvIII expression levels. These results suggested that the IL-3-independent phenotype is mediated by EGFRvIII. The level of expression is a critical driving force for the IL-3-independent phenotype. Dose-response analysis revealed 32D/EGFRvIII cells to require 500-fold higher concentrations (50 ng/ml) of EGF to further stimulate the EGF-mediated proliferation than in the 32D/EGFR cells (100 pg/ml). Similar effects were also observed in beta- cellulin-mediated proliferation. Moreover, 32D cells expressing high levels of EGFRvIII formed large tumors in nude mice, even when no exogenous EGF ligand was administered. In contrast, no tumors grew in mice injected with 32D/EGFR, 32D/ErbB-4, and 32D/ErbB-2+ErbB-3 cells or low-expressing clone 32D/EGFRvIII C2 cells or the parental 32D cells. The changes of the ligand specificity support the notion for an altered conformation of EGFRvIII to reveal an activated ligand-independent oncoprotein with tumorigenic activity analogous to v-erbB. These studies clearly demonstrate that EGFRvIII is capable of transforming a nontumorigenic, IL-3-dependent murine hematopoietic cell line (32D cells) into an IL-3-independent and ligand-independent malignant phenotype in vitro and in vivo. To delineate the biological significance of EGFRvIII in human breast cancer, we expressed EGFRvIII in the MCF-7 human breast cancer cell line. Expression of EGFRvIII in MCF-7 cells produced a constitutively activated EGFRvIII receptor. Expression of EGFRvIII in MCF-7 cells also elevated ErbB-2 phosphorylation, presumably through heterodimerization and cross-talk. These MCF-7/EGFRvIII transfectants exhibited an ~3-fold increase in colony formation in 1% serum with no significant effect observed at higher percentages of serum. A similar result was also seen in anchorage-dependent assays. Furthermore, EGFRvIII expression significantly enhanced tumorigenicity of MCF-7 cells in athymic nude mice with P < 0.001. Collectively, these results provide the first evidence that EGFRvIII/could play a pivotal role in human breast cancer progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3081-3087
Number of pages7
JournalCancer Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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