Transactivation of ErbB-2 induced by tumor necrosis factor α promotes NF-κB activation and breast cancer cell proliferation

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Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) is a pleiotropic cytokine which, acting locally, induces tumor growth. Accumulating evidence, including our findings, showed that TNFα is mitogenic in breast cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. In the present study, we explored TNFα involvement on highly aggressive ErbB-2-overexpressing breast cancer cells. We found that TNFα induces ErbB-2 phosphorylation in mouse breast cancer C4HD cells and in the human breast cancer cell lines SK-BR-3 and BT-474. ErbB-2 phosphorylation at Tyr877 residue was mediated by TNFα-induced c-Src activation. Moreover, TNFα promoted ErbB-2/ErbB-3 heterocomplex formation, Akt activation and NF-κB transcriptional activation. Inhibition of ErbB-2 by addition of AG825, an epidermal growth factor receptor/ErbB-2-tyrosine kinase inhibitor, or knockdown of ErbB-2 by RNA interference strategy, blocked TNFα-induced NF-κB activation and proliferation. However, the humanized monoclonal antibody anti-ErbB-2 Herceptin could not inhibit TNFα ability to promote breast cancer growth. Interestingly, our work disclosed that TNFα is able to transactivate ErbB-2 and use it as an obligatory downstream signaling molecule in the generation of mitogenic signals. As TNFα has been shown to be present in the tumor microenvironment of a significant proportion of human infiltrating breast cancers, our findings would have clinical implication in ErbB-2-positive breast cancer treatment.

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