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Strategies to measure functional signaling-associated protein complexes have the potential to augment current molecular biomarker assays, such as genotyping and expression profiling, used to annotate diseases. Aberrant activation of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling contributes to diverse cancers. We used a proximity ligation assay (PLA) to detect EGFR in a complex with growth factor receptor-bound protein 2 (GRB2), the major signaling adaptor for EGFR. We used multiple lung cancer cell lines to develop and characterize EGFR:GRB2 PLA and correlated this assay with established biochemical measures of EGFR signaling. In a panel of patient-derived xenografts in mice, the intensity of EGFR:GRB2 PLA correlated with the reduction in tumor size in response to the EGFR inhibitor cetuximab. In tumor biopsies from three cohorts of lung cancer patients, positive EGFR:GRB2 PLA was observed in patients with and without EGFR mutations, and the intensity of EGFR:GRB2 PLA was predictive of overall survival in an EGFR inhibitor-treated cohort. Thus, we established the feasibility of using PLA to measure EGFR signaling-associated protein complexes in patient-based materials, suggesting the potential for similar assays for a broader array of receptor tyrosine kinases and other key signaling molecules.
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