Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Expression and Activation in Neuroendocrine Tumours

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Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is expressed in many cancers and is associated with poor prognosis. EGFR activation pathways have been well characterised using tumour cell lines and are known to involve EGFR activation through autophosphorylation. Phosphorylation of downstream signalling molecules, such as ERK1/2 (extra-cellular regulated kinase 1 and 2) and PKB/Akt (protein kinase B), leads to enhanced tumour cell survival and proliferation. Although EGFR expression has been determined in neuroendocrine tumour tissue, its activation and subsequent effects on the downstream signalling molecules, ERK1/2 and Akt, have not been studied. We therefore planned to determine the role of EGFR in neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) by determining its pattern of expression and activation, and the subsequent activation of downstream signalling molecules ERK1/2 and Akt. Paraffin-embedded tumour tissue was available from 98 patients with NETs (39 foregut, 42 midgut, four hindgut, five paragangliomas, and four of unknown origin). Immunohistochemical evaluation was performed for the expression of EGFR, p-EGFR, p-Akt, and p-ERK1/2. Ninety-six percent of tumour samples were positive for EGFR expression; 63% were positive for activated EGFR; 76% were positive for activated Akt; and 96% were positive for activated ERK1/2. Importantly, the histological score for the activation of Akt and ERK1/2 correlated with the histological score for activated EGFR. These data provide a rationale for considering EGFR inhibitors in the treatment of NETs. Additionally, direct inhibition of Akt and ERK1/2 may provide further therapeutic options in the treatment of NETs in the future.

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