INTRODUCTION: Despite trastuzumab having enhanced selectivity for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2) overexpressing breast cancer cells, treatment is hampered by interindividual variation and tumors with high mitogenic potential. The lack of significant clinical benefit in certain patient cohorts suggests that HER-2 expression is ineffective as a sole prognostic indicator of response to therapy. Therefore, optimizing the clinical role of trastuzumab in drug combinations remains critical for clinical success.
AIM: To investigate the effects of trastuzumab in combination with either doxorubicin or geldanamycin on in vitro cell viability, cell cycling, apoptosis and relative HER-2 expression in HER-2-positive (SK-BR-3) and estrogen receptor-positive (MCF-7) breast adenocarcinoma models.
RESULTS: HER-2-rich SK-BR-3 cells demonstrated a greater sensitivity to the effects of doxorubicin than MCF-7 cells. Concurrent trastuzumab exposure resulted in a further reduction in cell viability. This decreased cell viability induced by doxorubicin was associated with activation of executioner caspases as well as with alterations in cell-cycle kinetics, primarily promoting S-phase accumulation. Doxorubicin had no effect on surface HER-2 density expression. Geldanamycin reduced cell viability significantly greater in SK-BR-3 than MCF-7 cells, and was associated with G2 cell-cycle accumulation. The addition of trastuzumab did not augment these effects. Geldanamycin promoted substantial reductions in relative surface HER-2 density in SK-BR-3 cells.
CONCLUSION: The in vitro data supported the rationale for using doxorubicin in trastuzumab-based therapies. Therefore, despite the incidence of cardiotoxicity, doxorubicin could retain a fundamental role in treating HER-2-positive breast cancer. While geldanamycin is a potent cytotoxic agent, its concurrent use with trastuzumab requires further research into the transient or permanent nature of alterations in HER-2 status in cell progeny.