Mechanisms of drug resistance

Drivers of tumor development are frequently dysregulated through gene amplification, overexpression, deletion, or mutation. We analyze miRNAs and their target genes that are causally involved in the acquisition of resistance to therapeutics.

Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is an initiating event in tumor cell invasion and metastasis. It has been shown to occur in resistance to a range of cancer therapies, including tamoxifen. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have been associated with EMT as well as resistance to standard therapies. To investigate the role of miRNAs in the development of resistance to tamoxifen as well as accompanying EMT-like properties, we established a tamoxifen-resistant (TamR) model by continually exposing MCF-7 breast cancer cells to tamoxifen. In addition to the molecular changes known to be involved in acquired tamoxifen resistance, TamR cells displayed mesenchymal features and had increased invasiveness. Genome-wide miRNA microarray analysis revealed that miRNA-375 was among the top downregulated miRNAs in resistant cells. Re-expression of miR-375 was sufficient to sensitize TamR cells to tamoxifen and partly reversed EMT. A combination of mRNA profiling, bioinformatics analysis and experimental validation identified metadherin (MTDH) as a direct target of miR-375. Knockdown of MTDH partially phenocopied the effects of miR-375 on the sensitivity to tamoxifen and the reversal of EMT. We observed an inverse correlation between the expression of miR-375 and its target MTDH in primary breast cancer samples, implying the pathological relevance of targeting. Finally, tamoxifen-treated patients with higher expression of MTDH had a shorter disease-free survival and higher risk of relapse. As most cancer-related deaths occur because of resistance to standard therapies and metastasis, re-expression of miR-375 or targeting MTDH might serve as potential therapeutic approaches for the treatment of TamR breast cancer. Reference: Ward 2013.

Trastuzumab/Herceptin is administered for the treatment of patients with ErbB2-overexpressing metastatic breast cancer. However, the response rate to Trastuzumab in patients is rather low. Recently, we have identified several alternative targets by combining computer simulations and experimental validations in a Trastuzumab resistant breast cell system using a systems biology approach. Currently, we are studying the involvement of other genetic and epigenetic factors in de novo or acquired drug resistance to several ErbB-receptor targeting molecules (e.g. Trastuzumab, gefitinib, etc).

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