TGF-β IL-6 axis mediates selective and adaptive mechanisms of resistance to molecular targeted therapy in lung cancer
Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
Transforming Growth Factor beta
The epidermal growth-factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitor erlotinib has been proven to be highly effective in the treatment of nonsmall cell lung cancer (NSCLC) harboring oncogenic EGFR mutations. The majority of patients, however, will eventually develop resistance and succumb to the disease. Recent studies have identified secondary mutations in the EGFR (EGFR T790M) and amplification of the N-Methyl-N'-nitro-N-nitroso-guanidine (MNNG) HOS transforming gene (MET) oncogene as two principal mechanisms of acquired resistance. Although they can account for approximately 50% of acquired resistance cases together, in the remaining 50%, the mechanism remains unknown. In NSCLC-derived cell lines and early-stage tumors before erlotinib treatment, we have uncovered the existence of a subpopulation of cells that are intrinsically resistant to erlotinib and display features suggestive of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). We showed that activation of TGF-beta-mediated signaling was sufficient to induce these phenotypes. In particular, we determined that an increased TGF-beta-dependent IL-6 secretion unleashed previously addicted lung tumor cells from their EGFR dependency. Because IL-6 and TGF-beta are prominently produced during inflammatory response, we used a mouse model system to determine whether inflammation might impair erlotinib sensitivity. Indeed, induction of inflammation not only stimulated IL-6 secretion but was sufficient to decrease the tumor response to erlotinib. Our data, thus, argue that both tumor cell-autonomous mechanisms and/or activation of the tumor microenvironment could contribute to primary and acquired erlotinib resistance, and as such, treatments based on EGFR inhibition may not be sufficient for the effective treatment of lung-cancer patients harboring mutant EGFR.