Functional isolation of activated and unilaterally phosphorylated heterodimers of ERBB2 and ERBB3 as scaffolds in ligand-dependent signaling

Qian Zhang, Euisun Park, Kian Kani, Ralf Landgraf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The EGFR (ERBB) family provides a model system for receptor signaling, oncogenesis, and the development of targeted therapeutics. Heterodimers of the ligand-binding-deficient ERBB2 (HER2) receptor and the kinase impaired ERBB3 (HER3) create a potent mitogenic signal, but the phosphorylation of ERBB2 in this context presents a challenge to established models of phosphorylation in trans. Higher order complexes of ERBB receptors have been observed biophysically and offer a theoretical route for ERBB2 phosphorylation, but it is not clear whether such complexes provide functionality beyond the constituent dimers. We now show that a previously selected inhibitory RNA aptamer that targets the extracellular domain (ECD) of ERBB3 acts by sterically disrupting these higher order interactions. Ligand binding, heterodimerization, phosphorylation of ERBB3, and AKT signaling are only minimally affected, whereas ERBB2 phosphorylation and MAPK signaling are selectively inhibited. The mapping of the binding site and creation of aptamer-resistant point mutants are consistent with a model of side-by-side oriented heterodimers to facilitate proxy phosphorylation, even at very low endogenous levels of receptors (below 10,000 receptors per cell). Additional modes of signaling with relevance to pathological ERBB expression states emerge at high receptor levels. Hence, higher order complexes of nonoverexpressed ERBB receptors are an integral and qualitatively distinct part of normal ERBB2/ERBB3 signaling. This mechanism of activation has implications for models of allosteric control, specificity of interactions, possible mechanisms of cross-talk, and approaches to therapeutic intervention that at present often generate experimental and clinical outcomes that do not reconcile with purely canonical, dimer-based models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13237-13242
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - Aug 14 2012


  • Oligomers
  • Proxy activation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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