The development of HER2 targeting agents has dramatically altered the natural history of HER2-positive breast cancer and is often cited as a prime example of the effectiveness of molecularly targeted therapy. Emerging data suggest that the remarkable clinical efficacy of these agents may be related to their ability to target the breast cancer stem cell (CSC) population. A new study suggests that the regulation of BCSCs by HER2 may extend to breast cancers that do not display HER2 gene amplification. In these tumors, HER2 is selectively expressed in the CSC population, and this expression is regulated by the tumor microenvironment. In mouse models, trastuzumab blocked growth of these HER2-negative tumors when administered in the adjuvant setting but had no effect on established tumors. These studies provide a potential biologic explanation for retrospective analysis of clinical trials, which surprisingly suggest that the clinical benefits of adjuvant trastuzumab may extend to women currently classified as HER2-negative. In addition to having significant implications for breast cancer therapy, these studies suggest the need to reevaluate the role of HER2 in regulating CSCs in other tumor types. Furthermore, these studies suggest that effective adjuvant therapies may need to target the CSC population.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research