Pertuzumab counteracts the inhibitory effect of ErbB2 on degradation of ErbB3

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Overexpression of ErbB2 and ErbB3 is found in several human cancers, and ErbB2-ErbB3 heterodimers are known as the most potent signaling units among ErbB dimers. While ErbB2 probably undergoes weak endocytosis, ErbB3 is readily internalized even in the absence of added ligand and without requirement for kinase activity. Overexpression of ErbB2 has been demonstrated to inhibit epidermal growth factor-induced internalization and degradation of epidermal growth factor receptor. This happens due to epidermal growth factor receptor-ErbB2 dimerization and can be counteracted by the anti-ErbB2 antibody pertuzumab, which binds the dimerization arm of ErbB2. Pertuzumab does also inhibit ErbB2-ErbB3 dimerization, but to what extent this has effect on constitutive and/or ligand-induced downregulation of ErbB3 is not known. In this study, we demonstrate that expression of ErbB2 as such did not block constitutive internalization of ErbB3, but that heregulin-induced degradation of ErbB3 was significantly slowed in cells expressing high levels of ErbB2. Incubation with pertuzumab did, however, counteract this effect. This indicates that the formation of ErbB2-ErbB3 heterodimers inhibits downregulation of ErbB3 and supports the notion that pertuzumab inhibits ErbB2 dimerization. The inhibitory effect of pertuzumab on ligand-induced ErbB2-ErbB3 heterodimerization was confirmed by the observation that pertuzumab inhibited heregulin-induced phosphorylation of ErbB3 in cells expressing ErbB2 and efficiently reduced heregulin-induced downstream signaling in cells expressing low levels of ErbB2. Altogether the results indicate that pertuzumab can be a valuable therapeutic agent not only in cancers overexpressing ErbB2 but also in cancers co-expressing ErbB2 and ErbB3.

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