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      BIM Mediates EGFR Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitor-Induced Apoptosis in Lung Cancers with Oncogenic EGFR Mutations

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          Abstract

          Background

          Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations are present in the majority of patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) responsive to the EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) gefitinib or erlotinib. These EGFR-dependent tumors eventually become TKI resistant, and the common secondary T790M mutation accounts for half the tumors with acquired resistance to gefitinib. However, the key proapoptotic proteins involved in TKI-induced cell death and other secondary mutations involved in resistance remain unclear. The objective of this study was to identify the mechanism of EGFR TKI-induced apoptosis and secondary resistant mutations that affect this process.

          Methods and Findings

          To study TKI-induced cell death and mechanisms of resistance, we used lung cancer cell lines (with or without EGFR mutations), Ba/F3 cells stably transfected with EGFR mutation constructs, and tumor samples from a gefitinib-resistant patient. Here we show that up-regulation of the BH3-only polypeptide BIM (also known as BCL2-like 11) correlated with gefitinib-induced apoptosis in gefitinib-sensitive EGFR-mutant lung cancer cells. The T790M mutation blocked gefitinib-induced up-regulation of BIM and apoptosis. This blockade was overcome by the irreversible TKI CL-387,785. Knockdown of BIM by small interfering RNA was able to attenuate apoptosis induced by EGFR TKIs. Furthermore, from a gefitinib-resistant patient carrying the activating L858R mutation, we identified a novel secondary resistant mutation, L747S in cis to the activating mutation, which attenuated the up-regulation of BIM and reduced apoptosis.

          Conclusions

          Our results provide evidence that BIM is involved in TKI-induced apoptosis in sensitive EGFR-mutant cells and that both attenuation of the up-regulation of BIM and resistance to gefitinib-induced apoptosis are seen in models that contain the common EGFR T790M and the novel L747S secondary resistance mutations. These findings also suggest that induction of BIM may have a role in the treatment of TKI-resistant tumors.

          Abstract

          Susumu Kobayashi and colleagues provide evidence that the polypeptide BIM is involved in tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI)-induced apoptosis in sensitive EGFR-mutant cells and suggest that induction of BIM may have a role in the treatment of TKI-resistant tumors.

          Editors' Summary

          Background.

          Most cases of lung cancer—the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide—are “non-small cell lung cancer” (NSCLC). Many patients with NSCLC die within a year of their diagnosis, but recently, “targeted” therapies have increased the life expectancy of some of them. Like all cancers, NSCLC occurs when cells begin to divide uncontrollably because of changes (mutations) in their genes. Targeted therapies specifically attack these changes and, unlike standard chemotherapy drugs, kill cancer cells without damaging normal cells. The targeted drugs used to treat NSCLC are gefitinib and erlotinib, two epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs). In normal cells, messenger proteins bind to EGFR and activate its tyrosine kinase, an enzyme that sticks phosphate groups on tyrosine (an amino acid) in other proteins. These “phosphorylated” proteins then tell the cell to divide. In some NSCLCs, EGFR drives uncontrolled cell division because its tyrosine kinase is mutated and the cancer becomes dependent on or “addicted” to EGFR signaling for its survival. TKI treatment can dramatically shrink this subset of NSCLCs, most of which lack a specific part of EGFR (the gene that encodes EGFR) or have the amino acid leucine instead of arginine at position 858 (an L858R mutation) of EGFR.

          Why Was This Study Done?

          TKI-sensitive NSCLCs eventually become resistant to TKIs because they acquire additional (secondary) mutations. In half of these TKI-resistant tumors, the additional mutation is replacement of threonine by methionine at position 790 (T790M) in EGFR. However, the mutations responsible for the remaining cases of TKI resistance are not known. In addition, little is known about how TKIs induce cell death other than that they induce a type of cell death called apoptosis. A better understanding of how TKIs kill tumor cells and how secondary mutations block their effects could reveal ways to enhance their action and improve the outcome for patients with NSCLC. In this study, the researchers have studied the mechanism of TKI-induced cell death and of resistance to TKIs.

          What Did the Researchers Do and Find?

          The researchers first measured the ability of gefitinib to cause apoptosis (genetically programmed cell death) in NSCLC cell lines (tumor cells adapted to grow indefinitely in dishes) that had the EGFR deletion, the L858R mutation, or normal EGFR. Gefitinib caused apoptosis only in cell lines with altered EGFR. Then they asked whether a proapoptotic protein called BIM (a member of the BCL2 family of pro- and antiapoptotic proteins) is involved in TKI-induced cell death—BIM is known to be involved in this process in leukemia (blood cancer) cells. Gefitinib treatment increased the expression of BIM in TKI-sensitive NSCLC cell lines and reduced the phosphorylation of BIM (which makes BIM more active). By contrast, blocking BIM expression using a technique called RNA interference reduced TKI-induced apoptosis in TKI-sensitive NSCLC cells. Furthermore, introduction of the T790M resistance mutation into these cells blocked gefitinib-induced up-regulation of BIM and apoptosis. Finally, the researchers identified a new TKI resistance mutation (L747S, substitution of serine for leucine at position 747) in a patient whose TKI-sensitive NSCLC had become resistant to gefitinib, and showed that this resistance mutation also reduced TKI-induced apoptosis in cells growing in dishes by interfering with BIM up-regulation.

          What Do These Findings Mean?

          These findings (and those reported by Gong et al. and Cragg et al.) show that BIM is required for TKI-induced apoptosis in EGFR mutant NSCLC cells. They also show that mutations that make TKI-sensitive cells resistant to these drugs reduce TKI-induced apoptosis by preventing the upregulation of BIM. These results were obtained by examining the behavior of established cell lines growing in dishes and need to be confirmed in cells freshly isolated from tumors and in tumors themselves. However, they suggest that the efficacy of TKIs could be increased by finding ways to increase BIM expression or to activate other proteins involved in apoptosis Such approaches might be particularly beneficial for patients with NSCLC whose initially TKI-sensitive tumors have acquired mutations that make them resistant to TKIs.

          Additional Information.

          Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040315.

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          Most cited references44

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          EGF receptor gene mutations are common in lung cancers from "never smokers" and are associated with sensitivity of tumors to gefitinib and erlotinib.

          Somatic mutations in the tyrosine kinase (TK) domain of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene are reportedly associated with sensitivity of lung cancers to gefitinib (Iressa), kinase inhibitor. In-frame deletions occur in exon 19, whereas point mutations occur frequently in codon 858 (exon 21). We found from sequencing the EGFR TK domain that 7 of 10 gefitinib-sensitive tumors had similar types of alterations; no mutations were found in eight gefitinib-refractory tumors (P = 0.004). Five of seven tumors sensitive to erlotinib (Tarceva), a related kinase inhibitor for which the clinically relevant target is undocumented, had analogous somatic mutations, as opposed to none of 10 erlotinib-refractory tumors (P = 0.003). Because most mutation-positive tumors were adenocarcinomas from patients who smoked <100 cigarettes in a lifetime ("never smokers"), we screened EGFR exons 2-28 in 15 adenocarcinomas resected from untreated never smokers. Seven tumors had TK domain mutations, in contrast to 4 of 81 non-small cell lung cancers resected from untreated former or current smokers (P = 0.0001). Immunoblotting of lysates from cells transiently transfected with various EGFR constructs demonstrated that, compared to wild-type protein, an exon 19 deletion mutant induced diminished levels of phosphotyrosine, whereas the phosphorylation at tyrosine 1092 of an exon 21 point mutant was inhibited at 10-fold lower concentrations of drug. Collectively, these data show that adenocarcinomas from never smokers comprise a distinct subset of lung cancers, frequently containing mutations within the TK domain of EGFR that are associated with gefitinib and erlotinib sensitivity.
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            Clinical and biological features associated with epidermal growth factor receptor gene mutations in lung cancers.

            Mutations in the tyrosine kinase (TK) domain of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene in lung cancers are associated with increased sensitivity of these cancers to drugs that inhibit EGFR kinase activity. However, the role of such mutations in the pathogenesis of lung cancers is unclear. We sequenced exons 18-21 of the EGFR TK domain from genomic DNA isolated from 617 non-small-cell lung cancers (NSCLCs) and 524 normal lung tissue samples from the same patients and 36 neuroendocrine lung tumors collected from patients in Japan, Taiwan, the United States, and Australia and from 243 other epithelial cancers. Mutation status was compared with clinicopathologic features and with the presence of mutations in KRAS, a gene in the EGFR signaling pathway that is also frequently mutated in lung cancers. All statistical tests were two sided. We detected a total of 134 EGFR TK domain mutations in 130 (21%) of the 617 NSCLCs but not in any of the other carcinomas, nor in nonmalignant lung tissue from the same patients. In NSCLC patients, EGFR TK domain mutations were statistically significantly more frequent in never smokers than ever smokers (51% versus 10%), in adenocarcinomas versus cancer of other histologies (40% versus 3%), in patients of East Asian ethnicity versus other ethnicities (30% versus 8%), and in females versus males (42% versus 14%; all P < .001). EGFR TK domain mutation status was not associated with patient age at diagnosis, clinical stage, the presence of bronchioloalveolar histologic features, or overall survival. The EGFR TK domain mutations we detected were of three common types: in-frame deletions in exon 19, single missense mutations in exon 21, and in-frame duplications/insertions in exon 20. Rare missense mutations were also detected in exons 18, 20, and 21. KRAS gene mutations were present in 50 (8%) of the 617 NSCLCs but not in any tumors with an EGFR TK domain mutation. Mutations in either the EGFR TK domain or the KRAS gene can lead to lung cancer pathogenesis. EGFR TK domain mutations are the first molecular change known to occur specifically in never smokers.
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              Cancer. Addiction to oncogenes--the Achilles heal of cancer.

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: Academic Editor
                Journal
                PLoS Med
                pmed
                PLoS Medicine
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                1549-1277
                1549-1676
                October 2007
                30 October 2007
                : 4
                : 10
                Affiliations
                [1 ] Division of Hematology/Oncology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [2 ] University Hospitals of Cleveland and Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, United States of America
                [3 ] Department of Pharmacology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America
                University of California Los Angeles, United States of America
                Author notes
                * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: skobayas@ 123456bidmc.harvard.edu
                Article
                07-PLME-RA-0425R2 plme-04-10-16
                10.1371/journal.pmed.0040315
                2043012
                17973572
                bdadf301-19c6-440d-9fb9-927d93313634
                Copyright: © 2007 Costa et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 12
                Categories
                Research Article
                Cell Biology
                Oncology
                Pharmacology
                Respiratory Medicine
                Cancer: Lung
                Drugs and Adverse Drug Reactions
                Custom metadata
                Costa DB, Halmos B, Kumar A, Schumer ST, Huberman MS, et al. (2007) BIM mediates EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor-induced apoptosis in lung cancers with oncogenic EGFR mutations. PLoS Med 4(10): e315. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040315

                Medicine
                Medicine

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