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      HER2 signaling regulates the tumor immune microenvironment and trastuzumab efficacy

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          Through whole-transcriptome profiling of HER2+ breast carcinomas (BCs), we previously showed that those sensitive to trastuzumab are addicted to this oncoprotein and are enriched in immune pathways, raising the hypothesis that HER2 itself regulates immune cell recruitment. In the present study we investigated the relationship between HER2 activity and the pro-trastuzumab tumor immune milieu. Gene expression profiling and immunohistochemistry analysis of 53 HER2+ BCs showed that trastuzumab-sensitive tumors expressed significantly higher levels of chemokines involved in immune cell recruitment, with higher infiltration of T cells and monocytes, and higher levels of PD-1 ligands than tumors that do not benefit from trastuzumab. In vitro analysis in HER2+ BC cells revealed that CCL2 production was induced by HER2 stimulation with EGF/HRG via the PI3K-NF-kB axis, and down-modulated by HER2 inhibition with trastuzumab. CCL2 expression was higher in HER2+/ER− than HER2+/ER+ BC cell lines, and degradation of ER by fulvestrant induced an enhancement in NF-κB transcriptional activity and consequent CCL2 expression. Trastuzumab efficacy relied on CCL2 levels and monocytes present in the tumor microenvironment in FVB mice bearing HER2+ mammary carcinoma cells. HER2 signals were also found to sustain the expression of PD-1 ligands in tumor cells via the MEK pathway.

          Overall, our results support the concept that the activated HER2 oncogene regulates recruitment and activation of tumor infiltrating immune cells and trastuzumab activity by inducing CCL2 and PD-1 ligands and that ER activity negatively controls the HER2-driven pro-trastuzumab tumor microenvironment.

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          Most cited references 28

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          Transcriptional profiling of the human monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation and polarization: new molecules and patterns of gene expression.

          Comprehensive analysis of the gene expression profiles associated with human monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation and polarization toward M1 or M2 phenotypes led to the following main results: 1) M-CSF-driven monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation is associated with activation of cell cycle genes, substantiating the underestimated proliferation potential of monocytes. 2) M-CSF leads to expression of a substantial part of the M2 transcriptome, suggesting that under homeostatic conditions a default shift toward M2 occurs. 3) Modulation of genes involved in metabolic activities is a prominent feature of macrophage differentiation and polarization. 4) Lipid metabolism is a main category of modulated transcripts, with expected up-regulation of cyclo-oxygenase 2 in M1 cells and unexpected cyclo-oxygenase 1 up-regulation in M2 cells. 5) Each step is characterized by a different repertoire of G protein-coupled receptors, with five nucleotide receptors as novel M2-associated genes. 6) The chemokinome of polarized macrophages is profoundly diverse and new differentially expressed chemokines are reported. Thus, transcriptome profiling reveals novel molecules and signatures associated with human monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation and polarized activation which may represent candidate targets in pathophysiology.
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            NF-kappa B activation in human breast cancer specimens and its role in cell proliferation and apoptosis.

            Lack of molecular targets in estrogen receptor-negative (ER-negative) breast cancer is a major therapeutic hurdle. We studied NF-kappa B activation in human breast tumors and in carcinoma cell lines. Activated NF-kappa B was detected predominantly in ER-negative vs. ER-positive breast tumors and mostly in ER-negative and ErbB2-positive tumors (86%). These in vivo results demonstrate association of activated NF-kappa B with a subgroup of human breast tumors and are consistent with previously reported in vitro observations using similar classes of human breast cancer cell lines. Finding such an association suggested functional and biological significance. Immunofluorescence demonstrated increased nuclear p65, a component of the active NF-kappa B complex, in cytokeratin 19 (CK19)-positive epithelial cells of ER-negative/ErbB2-positive tumor samples. In contrast, nuclear NF-kappa B was detected mostly in stroma of ER-negative and ErbB2-negative tumors, suggesting a role of activated NF-kappa B in intercellular signaling between epithelial and stromal cells in this type of breast cancers. To elucidate roles of activated NF-kappa B, we used an ER-negative and ErbB2-positive human breast tumor cell line (SKBr3). The polypeptide heregulin beta1 stimulated, and herceptin, the anti-ErbB2 antibody, inhibited, NF-kappa B activation in SKBr3 cells. The NF-kappa B essential modulator (NEMO)-binding domain (NBD) peptide, an established selective inhibitor of I kappa B-kinase (IKK), blocked heregulin-mediated activation of NF-kappa B and cell proliferation, and simultaneously induced apoptosis only in proliferating and not resting cells. These results substantiate the hypothesis that certain breast cancer cells rely on NF-kappa B for aberrant cell proliferation and simultaneously avoid apoptosis, thus implicating activated NF-kappa B as a therapeutic target for distinctive subclasses of ER-negative breast cancers.
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              Natural and therapy-induced immunosurveillance in breast cancer.

              The immunosurveillance theory postulates that tumors evolve and progress in an uncontrolled fashion only when anticancer immune responses fail. Natural immunosurveillance clearly influences human breast cancer (BC) progression because the prognosis of BC patients is dictated by the density, composition and activity of the tumor immune infiltrate at diagnosis. Moreover, chemotherapeutic and radiotherapeutic regimens commonly employed for the treatment of BC affect the tumor immune infiltrate, and accumulating data suggest that the clinical efficacy of these treatments is largely determined by T cell-dependent tumor-specific immune responses. In addition, the mechanism of action of targeted anticancer therapeutics, such as the erb-b2 receptor tyrosine kinase 2 (ERBB2)-targeting agent trastuzumab, involves the innate and adaptive arms of the immune system. In this Review, we discuss these findings as well as preliminary evidence indicating that immunotherapy constitutes a promising option for the treatment of BC. Moreover, we point out that the successful implementation of immunotherapy to BC management requires the optimization of current immunotherapeutic regimens and the identification of immunological biomarkers that enable improved risk stratification and the design of personalized, dynamic treatment plans.

                Author and article information

                Taylor & Francis
                21 September 2018
                21 September 2018
                : 8
                : 1
                [a ]Molecular Targeting Unit, Department of Research, Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori of Milan , Milan, Italy
                [b ]Anatomic Pathology A Unit, Department of Pathology, Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori of Milan , Milan, Italy
                [c ]Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche per la Salute, Università degli Studi di Milano , Milan, Italy
                Author notes
                CONTACT Elda Tagliabue elda.tagliabue@ Molecular Targeting Unit, Department of Research, Fondazione IRCCS, Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori di Milano , Via Amadeo 42, Milan, Italy

                These authors contributed equally to this work.

                Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at

                © 2019 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

                Page count
                Figures: 7, References: 45, Pages: 12
                Funded by: Fondazione Pezcoller 10.13039/501100007461
                Award ID: TT
                Funded by: Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro (AIRC)
                Award ID: ET, n° 15359
                This work was supported by Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro (AIRC) (E.T ID.15359). TT was the recipient of a fellowship from Società Italiana di Cancerologia and Fondazione Pezcoller.
                Original Research


                breast cancer, her2, trastuzumab, chemokine, ccl2, immune cells


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