PURPOSE - A significant fraction of HER2-overexpressing breast cancers exhibit resistance to the HER2 antibody trastuzumab. Hyperactivity of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT pathway confers trastuzumab resistance, and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is a major downstream effector of PI3K/AKT. Therefore, we examined whether mTOR inhibitors synergize with trastuzumab.
EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN - Immunocompetent mice bearing HER2(+) mammary tumors were treated with trastuzumab, the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin, or the combination. Mice were imaged for tumor cell death using an optical Annexin-V probe and with [(18)F]FDG positron emission tomography. The signaling and growth effects of the mTOR inhibitor RAD001 on HER2(+) cells treated with trastuzumab or lapatinib were evaluated.
RESULTS - Treatment of mice with trastuzumab plus rapamycin was more effective than single-agent treatments, inducing complete regression of 26 of 26 tumors. The combination induced tumor cell death (Annexin-V binding) and inhibited FDG uptake. Rapamycin inhibited mTOR and tumor cell proliferation as determined by phosphorylated S6 and Ki-67 immunohistochemistry, respectively. In culture, the combination of RAD001 plus trastuzumab inhibited cell growth more effectively than either drug alone. Trastuzumab partially decreased PI3K but not mTOR activity. Knockdown of TSC2 resulted in HER2-independent activation of mTOR and dampened the response to trastuzumab and lapatinib. Treatment with the HER2 inhibitor lapatinib decreased phosphorylated S6 and growth in TSC2-expressing cells but not in TSC2-knockdown cells.
CONCLUSIONS - Inhibition of PI3K and mTOR are required for the growth-inhibitory effect of HER2 antagonists. These findings collectively support the combined use of trastuzumab and mTOR inhibitors for the treatment of HER2(+) breast cancer.